Evidence Based Prejudice

June 23rd, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, nutritionists, references | 58 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday June 24, 2006
The Guardian

It can sometimes seem like there are two competing ways to make a decision about any complex matter of evidence based medicine. One is to purchase and digest “How to Read a Paper: The Basics of Evidence-Based Medicine” by Professor Trisha Greenhalgh (BMA Books, a life changing experience if you have a week to spare), and then find, read, and critically appraise every single published academic study independently and in full for yourself. The other more common method is to rely on “experts”, or what I like to call “prejudice”.

But there is a third way: what we might call “Evidence Based Prejudice”. I can’t possibly debunk every single alternative therapy column you will ever read: but if I could show that their single most popular claim has no foundation, then you could safely ignore everything else they say, thus saving valuable brain energy, and freeing up extra time for you to write best-selling novels and eradicate world poverty.

And so to antioxidants. The basic claim of the alternative therapy industry is as follows: free radicals in the body are bad, but antioxidants neutralise free radicals; people who eat vegetables with antioxidants in them live longer, therefore antioxidant tablets are good.

Now this “free-radicals-bad antioxidants-good” morality tale looks great on paper: but if you’re going to read a biochemistry textbook and pull bits out at random, you can prove anything you like. For example, my phagocytic cells build a wall around invading pathogens and then use free radicals – amongst other things – to kill the bacteria off, before the bacteria kill me. They’re probably doing it right now, somewhere in here. So do I need free radical supplements to help me fight infections? Sounds plausible. You can see, now, how I could make some serious money if I ever turned to the dark side (alternative therapists, why not just pick some more chemicals at random from Stryer Biochemistry, 5th Ed.).

Of course the “antioxidants good” story didn’t come entirely out of the blue: it came, like almost all the evidence on diet and health, from observational studies. People who eat well, with plenty of fruit and vegetables in their diet, tend to live longer, healthier lives. But these are observational studies, not intervention studies. These are not studies where you take a few thousand people and make them eat salad. These are surveys, looking at people who already have healthy diets: people like me, and since you’re asking, I also cycle to work, get a good night’s sleep, have a fairly comfortable lifestyle, a stable relationship, and a plausible career. People like me do live longer (thanks for asking) but it’s not just the antioxidants in our rocket salad.

So what happens, then, when people do big studies, forcing people to eat salad? Well it’s not an easy thing to do, if only because it’s difficult to get people to eat what you tell them, and measure what they eat, and check if they’re truthful, and so on: the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial in the 1970s was probably the single biggest medical project ever undertaken, it took 12,866 men, advised them, monitored them, cajoled them, persuaded them, followed them up for a decade, and found little benefit from dietary change. Intervention trials for diet have continued, since then, to produce negative results. Maybe they’re technically too difficult…

But what about vitamin tablets? They’re easy to study, in the sense that it’s easy to take a tablet – easier than changing your whole food lifestyle – easy to find a placebo control for, and so on. And there have been innumerable studies, and systematic reviews of those studies, and meta-analyses of those studies, and they have found no benefit for antioxidants. A meta-analysis – a mathematical combination of lots of smaller studies to give one larger and more accurate answer – of 15 studies, a total of over 200,000 patients, being followed up for between 1 and 12 years, found no benefit for cardiovascular outcomes. The current Cochrane Review on antioxidants and bowel cancer had just as many patients, and again found no benefit for the pills.

That must be the single most prevalent claim of the whole alternative therapy industry: and it is in stark contradiction of the experience of hundreds of thousands of individuals who have been carefully studied in these trials, examining the very advice the alternative therapy industry is giving. If they can’t get that one thing right, why would you listen to them on anything else?

References:

Use of antioxidant vitamins for the prevention of cardiovascular disease: meta-analysis of randomised trials. Lancet. 2003 Jun 14;361(9374):2017-23. Link.

Antioxidant supplements for preventing gastrointestinal cancers, Bjelakovic G, Nikolova D, Simonetti RG, Gluud C. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2006 Issue 2 Link.

Multiple risk factor intervention trial. Risk factor changes and mortality results. Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial Research Group. JAMA. 1982 Sep 24;248(12):1465-77. Link

Trisha Greenhalgh’s awesomely readable blockbuster “How To Read A Paper” is published by BMA books, available at Amazon and all good medical bookshops; alternatively, the BMJ review papers from which it is drawn are magnanimously available free online here (bear in mind these papers have fewer jokes and are generally a bit less readable than the book).


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58 Responses



  1. Delster said,

    June 23, 2006 at 3:43 pm

    debunking bad science = plausible career…. got any vacancies? :-)

  2. coracle said,

    June 23, 2006 at 11:01 pm

    Stryer? Bah, it was always ZUBAY for me.

    Lodish has better pictures though.

  3. Ithika said,

    June 23, 2006 at 11:24 pm

    Plausible career, I never laughed so hard. At the moment, I think I’m in the control group regarding careers. In fact, I don’t even know if I’m getting the benefit of a placebo. :-(

  4. pseudomonas said,

    June 24, 2006 at 7:53 am

    coracle: Voet & Voet worked for me.

  5. superburger said,

    June 24, 2006 at 11:26 am

    A post-doc biochemist I work with is a bit under the weather (i suspect stress caused by engagment and wedding planning…) so she is popping A-Z vitamin tablets as well as ginseng etc.

    I suggested that it was pretty pointless and she could get all the vitamins she needed from 3 sensible meals a day and would feel less tired if she got 8 hours kip every night, but she still keeps taking the pills.

    I’m guilty too of believing advertising and marketing hype (I know the octane of petrol is going to have no effect on the ‘performance’ of my 1000cc Polo, but I do put super unleaded in sometimes)

    Maybe, like Fox Mulder, there’s a part of us that says “I want to believe” and lets us fantasise that taking a vitamin C pill is going to improve our health dramatically. Advertising just taps into that part and helps us spend our money more quickly.

    Generally, I don’t care, but it does annoy when I can see that CAM business people are misusing science to sell product. It masks the elegence and simplicity of most scientific principles, the rigour of most scientists and makes things like healthy eating seem complex..

  6. monkeychicken said,

    June 24, 2006 at 12:04 pm

    I used to swear by vitamin C whenever I had a cold…not sure if i did any good, but it certainly cleared up the constipation…

  7. Gavin said,

    June 25, 2006 at 1:49 am

    “Evidence Based Prejudice” as Ben calls it might be a good general principle but may lead you astray.

    To claim, as Ben does, that “… I could show that their single most popular claim has no foundation …” is wrong. The claim may be mostly wrong but it isn’t as simple as that, and to reference studies about cardio-vascular disease and gastro-intestinal cancers which might show no benefit for anti-oxidants, as if that is the whole story, is I think a cheap-shot aimed at ‘out-sciencing’ the reader.

    In Age-Related Macular Degeneration anti-oxidant supplements have been shown to confer a benefit.

    “AREDS researchers found that people at high risk of developing advanced stages of AMD lowered their risk by about 25 percent when treated with a high-dose combination of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and zinc. In the same high risk group — which includes people with intermediate AMD, or advanced AMD in one eye but not the other eye — the nutrients reduced the risk of vision loss caused by advanced AMD by about 19 percent. For those study participants who had either no AMD or early AMD, the supplements did not provide an apparent benefit.”

    www.nei.nih.gov/neitrials/viewStudyWeb.aspx?id=44

    PubMed indexes supporting studies, there are some qualifying but none contradicting that I found. The benefit may not be huge but are significant.

    ‘Large’ doses of supplements do have risks as well but if you are at risk of or suffering from AMRD, that is a choice you make.

  8. kim said,

    June 25, 2006 at 10:43 am

    I’m slightly puzzled by this article. I’ve seen the statement that anti-oxidants are good because they neutralise free radicals many, many times, not just in articles on alternative health, but in the health pages of newspapers and magazines, where it has always been presented as accepted fact. Indeed, every so often a scientific study will be reported that announces that red wine and dark chocolate are good for you because they contain anti-oxidants that “mop up” free radicals.

    So is it really the case that only the alternative health lot believe in this? And that mainstream scientists don’t believe in it at all?

    As I said, I’m puzzled.

  9. sciencemonkey said,

    June 25, 2006 at 1:11 pm

    Its known that a lot of degenerative diseases and damage is caused by free radicals in various tissues. In in vitro studies (ie cell culture or test tubes) anti-oxidants may improve the markers of radical damage, but it is unclear whether this can be replicated in the body. All the antioxidants in the wine/chocolate would have to be taken up from your intestine and transported to sites where the damage is occuring without being used in a reaction on the way or being oxidised in transit.

    About the only one I know it works in is a hangover! Fresh OJ and vitamin tabs make you feel so much better.

  10. sciencemonkey said,

    June 25, 2006 at 1:14 pm

    PS Stryer was good, but Voet and Voet was always a bit better. Cant beat a bit of Molecular biology of the cell though!

    www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0815340729/026-5705165-1366011?v=glance&n=266239

  11. Dr Aust said,

    June 25, 2006 at 1:30 pm

    Kim

    The issue here is whether chomping anti-oxidant SUPPLEMENTS make your body any better at dealing with free radicals.

    The basic facts about free radicals could be stated as:

    1. Your body’s cells produce free radicals
    2. Your body’s cells therefore have multiple antioxidant defence systems to remove/neutralise these free radicals.

    Those are the minimal truths that most scientists and doctors could sign up to.

    So your body’s cells DO spend a lot of time and energy neutralising free radicals. BUT adding to your diet humongous quantities of “antioxidant chemicals”, inc. Vit C, Vit E, selenium, CoQ10 (among the more popular Boots vitamin rack suspects), or consuming loads of green tea, red wine, dark chocolate ( I could go on) does NOT necessarily make these cellular defences “more well-armed”.

    As Ben writes, the evidence from a lot of studies on humans suggests it doesn’t make any difference.

    This is probably a result of your body having been “designed” by evolution to cope happily with detoxifying free radicals without you stuffing yourself with supplements.

    [There may be particular exceptions to this, if you have one of a no. of SPECIFIC diseases which are causing a special super-over-production of free radicals in certain places in the body (e.g. in macular degeneration) or in certain parts of the machinery inside your cells (e.g. in some rare inherited neurodegenerative conditions). But in general taking supplements does nothing]

    So we could extend the basic truths further:

    3. Some of these anti-oxidant defence systems need things you get from your diet
    4. A normal mixed diet contains more than enough of these things because:
    5. Your body is good at getting what it needs efficiently out of what you eat, and;
    6. It maintains “reserves” of many things it needs.

    So by now you can see the trick. If we accept 1 and 2, but ignore 3-6, and also ignore/downplay all the evidence that taking supplements does nothing for us, we can easily convince people that taking supplements is “good for you because it helps get rid of free radicals”. Cue lots of nervous people buying anti-oxidant supplements, health journalists making a living and tills ringing

    Most doctors, I suspect, figure that people taking supplements probably does no harm, so they often don’t bother telling their patients it does no good either. More forthright GPs might tell their patients they would be better off spending the money on eating more salad.

    Incidentally, sometimes your body uses free radicals for useful purposes,
    e.g. immune cells make free radicals to kill bacteria and other invading organisms. If taking supplements REALLY “stoppped free radical production in the body” then your immune system might have a problem…! In fact your immune system, happily, doesn’t notice the supplements. Yet more evidence, of course, that taking stonking doses of “antioxidant vitamins” doesn’t really modulate anti-oxidant homeostasis in the body.

  12. amoebic vodka said,

    June 25, 2006 at 2:18 pm

    Stryer is very good for hitting people over the head with…Alberts (Molecular Biology of the Cell) is rubbish as paperback just does not have the same effect. It doesn’t stand up properly in the bookcase either.

  13. Robert Carnegie said,

    June 26, 2006 at 12:29 am

    Why are we supposed to eat vegetables then? Just wondering…

    As for who believes in antioxidants… not only alternative scientists are liable to believe things which the current evidence base does not support. You see the eight glasses of water claim a lot, too. I suppose it gives you something to do with your hands.

  14. CB said,

    June 26, 2006 at 6:59 am

    “Why are we supposed to eat vegetables?”

    presumably to stop us needing to stuff our faces full of pills

  15. Mork said,

    June 26, 2006 at 7:49 am

    I loved Stryer but only for the small sketch (in the section on haemoglobin I think) of a rather cheerful-looking sperm whale. Clearly drawn by a whimsical illustrator at 4 o’clock on a sunny Friday afternoon.

  16. DT said,

    June 26, 2006 at 12:22 pm

    And let’s not forget that high dose supplementation of that favourite anti-oxyidant vitamin, Vitamin E, may increase your mortality risk.

    Link

  17. geoffseago said,

    June 26, 2006 at 12:29 pm

    so are you saying that all this 5 a day thats plastered over fruit and veg in all the supermarkets actually has no scientific evidence to support it?

  18. Delster said,

    June 26, 2006 at 1:06 pm

    I’ll sometimes take vitamin supplements. The main reason for this is that i tend to have a lousy diet esp when working longer hours than normal or some such thing and have not been getting much in the way of fruit & veg…. you’d be amazed how long you can keep going on mars bars for!

    Amoebic Vodka….. nothing beats a hard back copy of grey’s anatomy for head thumping!

  19. guthrie said,

    June 26, 2006 at 2:47 pm

    Geoff:
    I think these points answer your question:

    “3. Some of these anti-oxidant defence systems need things you get from your diet
    4. A normal mixed diet contains more than enough of these things because:
    5. Your body is good at getting what it needs efficiently out of what you eat, and;
    6. It maintains “reserves” of many things it needs”

    The idea being that the 5 a day is roughly (On average, given the many differences between people) what you need to have a “normal mixed diet”.
    I personally manage 5 or more 2 or 3 times a week, more during summer when theres all this lovely fruit about.

  20. coracle said,

    June 26, 2006 at 3:46 pm

    Did I see somewhere, altmed types are flogging reduced glutathione supplements?

    Mmmm tasty!

    yes, I did: www.yournutritionshop.com/Quick_Search/glutathione_m.htm

    I love the smell of sulpher in the morning!

  21. Dr Aust said,

    June 26, 2006 at 3:52 pm

    Hi

    I think that guthrie’s point is about right – the “five fruit and veg” was to give people a bit more specific dietary information rather than saying “eat a normal mixed diet”. Sadly “normal mixed diet” is not well-understood in the era of 4 nights a week frozen pizza ‘n’ chips ‘n’ large soda diet, so better to give more detailed and specific info on what you should and shouldn’t include.

    Of course, it is still not perfect, as what one person calls “a portion” (no sniggering please) is not the same as another person’s portion. This makes surveying how much of different foods people really take in a bit tricky.

    Note, also – importantly – that you CAN’T “cheat” by chomping vitamin supplements to compensate if you regularly DON’T get your five portions of fruit and veg. The available scientific evidence seems to suggest (though the reasons why are not clear) that your body is better at getting the goodies it needs out of the “normal mixed diet”, and NOT so good at getting them out of “pills full of a mix of chemicals that you should normally get from your diet”. This is another thing that the vitamin peddlars understandably keep quiet about.

    There ARE certain things that you can get from supplements if you have an actual DEFICIENCY or need extra (iron, vitamin B12 and folic acid being obvious examples), but IN GENERAL vitamins pills are NOT a substitute for a healthy mixed diet.

    From reading the above you may detect one of the reasons why the modern plague of “nutritionists” drives mainstream scientists and doctors so crazy. The basic advice on what you should eat in a “healthy diet” is pretty simple, most people know what it is (even people that don’t follow it), and it ain’t exactly rocket science (no lettuce pun intended).

    Unfortunately, hordes of nutritional mystification peddlars and not a few “holistic physicians” (step forward e.g. Dr John Briffa) make a nice living making it all seem very complicated and selling you their “expert” advice .

    PS Does anyone apart from me find it noticeable that the people detailing their huge intake of vitamins/supplements/Reiki massages in the columns in the Sundays come so often from the perfoming arts/meejah? I sometimes think the Coronation Street and Eastenders casts must practically keep the supplement industry in business on their own.

  22. coracle said,

    June 26, 2006 at 3:59 pm

    PS Does anyone apart from me find it noticeable that the people detailing their huge intake of vitamins/supplements/Reiki massages in the columns in the Sundays come so often from the perfoming arts/meejah? I sometimes think the Coronation Street and Eastenders casts must practically keep the supplement industry in business on their own.

    That could well be down to the prejudices of the journalist/editor responsible about who their audience may be most interested in. Alternatively it could be because the people you suggested uncritically accept anything ‘nice’ that will organically and holistically enrich their total wellbeingity.

    Difficult to make any firm conclusion.

  23. kim said,

    June 26, 2006 at 7:04 pm

    Thanks to Dr Aust for a very full and helpful answer to my question.

    Some extra thoughts spring to mind:

    1. A recent article in the Guardian that said that five fruit and veg a day is a fairly low baseline figure and most European countries suggest seven or 10 fruit and veg a day – but the authorities don’t want to frighten the Brits off. How true is this, ie how much fruit and veg do we really need?

    2. Another article in the graun (sorry, all my information about anything, pretty much, comes from the graun) saying there are lots of cultures/nationalities who hardly eat any fruit and veg at all but still manage to be very healthy, e.g. the Inuit, among others.

    3. Yet another article in the graun that said the idea that dietary fibre prevents bowel cancer is completely untrue: yes, people who eat lots of fibre are less likely to get bowel cancer, but once you’ve controlled for the fact that their diet and lifestyle are healthier in other ways (e.g. eat lots of fruit and veg; don’t smoke), the effect disappears.

    4. Given all this, what truly constitutes a healthy mixed diet? Do we really know?

    (I write as someone who eats lots of fruit and veg, doesn’t smoke, and is in most respects a paragon of healthy eating. And I don’t take supplements either.)

  24. Jellytussle said,

    June 26, 2006 at 7:07 pm

    Gavin said,
    June 25, 2006 at 1:49 am
    “Evidence Based Prejudice” as Ben calls it might be a good general principle but may lead you astray.
    To claim, as Ben does, that “… I could show that their single most popular claim has no foundation …” is wrong.

    Gavin, this is egregious misquoting, which changes the whole meaning of the original sentence, which actually reads thus:
    “…if I could show that their single most popular claim has no foundation…”

    i.e. a supposition rather than a claim.

  25. kim said,

    June 26, 2006 at 7:59 pm

    There’s another thing that’s been bothering me, so I might as well add it to the collection.

    It’s all the fuss about Omega-3, found mostly in oily fish (apparently) and (apparently) very good for the brain.

    As a vegetarian, I’ve been slightly sceptical about all this. And I was quite pleased to see an edition of Horizon last year, in which an academic named Tom Sanders, from King’s College, who’s been studying Omega 3 for 40 years, said he was doubtful about whether it had all the benefits that were claimed for it. In particular, he said, vegetarians didn’t seem to suffer any adverse effects from not eating oily fish. He also pointed to India, which has a large number of vegetarians, who are neither dropping dead from heart disease nor displaying signs of educational subnormality. (In fact, I’ve heard that India has one of the highest ratios of Ph.D.s per head of population in the world – but don’t know if that’s true.)

    And yet in the handful of studies that have been carried out with Omega 3, children’s educational performance seems to have improved dramatically after taking the tablets. Why is this? Is it just the Hawthorne effect or is it real? Control groups taking the placebo apparently didn’ t show the same improvement.

  26. Gavin said,

    June 26, 2006 at 10:56 pm

    Jellytussle said,

    June 26, 2006 at 7:07 pm

    “Gavin, this is egregious misquoting, which changes the whole meaning of the original sentence, which actually reads thus:
    “…if I could show that their single most popular claim has no foundation…”

    i.e. a supposition rather than a claim. ”

    Yes, what I quoted is preceded by “if”. But I don’t think it is a supposition that he is making, more a proposition. Which he picks up in the following paragraph.

    “And so to antioxidants. The basic claim of the alternative therapy industry is as follows: free radicals in the body are bad, but antioxidants neutralise free radicals; people who eat vegetables with antioxidants in them live longer, therefore antioxidant tablets are good.”

    Which is then followed by a general rubbishing of the “antioxidants good story”.

    The rubbishing may be well deserved in most cases but there are well supported exceptions for which antioxidant tablets are good. Therefore the proposition that I read Ben to be putting to us is wrong.

  27. wilksie said,

    June 27, 2006 at 7:06 am

    “vegetarians didn’t seem to suffer any adverse effects from not eating oily fish. He also pointed to India, which has a large number of vegetarians, who are neither dropping dead from heart disease nor displaying signs of educational subnormality”

    Veggies can get omega 3s from green leafy vegetables and seeds.
    See
    www.vegsoc.org/info/omega3.html

  28. outeast said,

    June 27, 2006 at 9:15 am

    Therefore the proposition that I read Ben to be putting to us is wrong.

  29. BorisTheChemist said,

    June 27, 2006 at 1:58 pm

    Stryer is no longer red. How very disappointing.

  30. geoffseago said,

    June 27, 2006 at 2:14 pm

    Saw a documentory on the innuit recently – apparently they get most of their vitamins from knarwhale blubber yum

  31. Jellytussle said,

    June 27, 2006 at 4:24 pm

    Well known fact that Polar Bear liver has toxic concentrations of Vit D.

  32. ACH said,

    June 27, 2006 at 7:21 pm

    Jellytussle – isn’t it Vit A?

  33. kim said,

    June 27, 2006 at 7:28 pm

    Mmm, probably vitamin A. A recent episode of New Tricks was based on the dubious premise of someone poisoning people with dog livers, because dog livers contain toxic amounts of Vitamin A. It’s a fair bet that polar bear livers are the same.

  34. Jellytussle said,

    June 27, 2006 at 8:38 pm

    Yeah Vit A.

  35. Tessa K said,

    June 27, 2006 at 9:26 pm

    Yes, it was vitamin A.

    One thing that bothers me about fish liver oil is the amount of pollution that could well be accumulated in the liver, given how polluted the seas are where cod are caught. No one who prasies the oil ever seems to mention this. Someone told me that flax seed oil has all the same benefits, without the possible toxic stuff.

  36. CB said,

    June 28, 2006 at 7:07 am

    Boris – maybe its a new way of telling somebody’s age – by what colour their Stryer is! Mine is blue :(

  37. BorisTheChemist said,

    June 28, 2006 at 2:53 pm

    I only graduated in 2002! It was red then!

  38. CB said,

    June 29, 2006 at 7:05 am

    The sands of Stryer time doth move apace.

  39. Jellytussle said,

    June 29, 2006 at 5:28 pm

    When I bought my Stryer in 1990 it was blue. Happily sold it in 1993 having read very little. Alberts, which I bought in 1987 was a much better book.

  40. Ben Goldacre said,

    June 29, 2006 at 5:40 pm

    suddenly i feel like i have gravitas: mine was a blue third edition, and when i bought the fucker in 1992 it cost me a week’s rent. made a bum investment with the black second edition of berne and levy’s physiology just before the white third came out too.

    i cannot believe the scale of the proustian rush this discussion has elicited in me.

  41. Jellytussle said,

    June 29, 2006 at 7:25 pm

    Yeah. nostalgia. I covered my costs when I sold my skeleton to some poor sap for 250 quid. Same guy that bought Stryer in fact.

  42. Dave M said,

    June 30, 2006 at 9:09 am

    You sold your actual skeleton!?

    Is that where the Jelly part of Jellytussle comes from.

  43. Delster said,

    June 30, 2006 at 2:56 pm

    the worlds first human invertebrate…..

  44. Jellytussle said,

    June 30, 2006 at 4:20 pm

    hehe

    *wobbles*

  45. E.Obie said,

    July 1, 2006 at 3:04 am

    Sorry if this has already been covered, but I belve that the “the single biggest medical project ever undertaken” was not the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial but rahter the Polio Vaccine Trial in the US that enrolled about 1.8 million kids.

  46. davoid said,

    July 1, 2006 at 6:14 am

    The thing is, no-one knows what makes us age, and the free radical thing is so attractively elegant an explanation. But that is the black box that so much alternative therapy exploits, e.g. free radicals may make us age, antioxidants can reduce free radical activity and damage in vitro, but (black box) we don’t know whether they reduce it in vivo, and certainly don’t know that they can extend lifespan. The consensus so far, using single compounds, is that they can’t.

  47. igb said,

    July 2, 2006 at 10:42 am

    Tessa K refers to Flax Seed Oil. In a moment of madness, I bought a bottle of `Good Oil’ (sic) from Waitrose, whose front label says “A pure natural oil of cold-pressed hemp seed NUTTY NUTRITIOUS TASTES DELICIOUS Good for salads pasta and vegetables A UNIQUE BALANCE OF OMEGA 3, 6 AND 9 USE LIKE AN OLIVE OIL”. I won’t attempt to reproduce the “It’s 1986 and I’ve just bought a Mac” assortment of fonts and pointsizes. I bought it because I was getting fed up with making mayonnaise that tastes powerfully of olive oil, and although my rational side says that anything involving an egg and half a pint of oil is a health no-no, using decent olive oil is slightly less catastrophic than some of the alternatives.

    It tastes like concentrated groundnut oil, it burns as soon as you look at it (OK, to be fair, it didn’t mention cooking purposes but then it says use like an olive oil) and it costs about the twice the price of decent quality generic cold-pressed olive oil. That mix of Omega 3, 6 and 9 had better be worth something, because from a culinary point of view it’s hard to see the justification.

  48. Robert Carnegie said,

    July 2, 2006 at 11:35 am

    Omega 3 may be very popular with the Brain Gym faction, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t going to turn out to be a useful strand of nutrition science, or that it isn’t being tested with proper scientific rigour – so our reflex of jeering at any novel claim set in scientific terms should be restrained.

  49. Melissa said,

    July 2, 2006 at 4:22 pm

    Although jeering at a heinous assortment of multiple fonts and pointsizes is entirely justified.

  50. kim said,

    July 2, 2006 at 6:14 pm

    Well, igb, all I would say about your mayonnaise is that in the current see-saw of opinion about eggs, eggs = good for you. So enjoy it while you can. I suspect whatever oil you’re using probably isn’t that bad either, and may even be positively good. Anyway, you’re hardly likely to be devouring it in large quantities – how much potato salad can one person eat?

  51. Robert Carnegie said,

    July 2, 2006 at 9:50 pm

    As for Web site design, let he or she who is W3C compliant, accessibility-certified, and Plain English-approved cast the first stone.

  52. Melissa said,

    July 3, 2006 at 3:49 pm

    It’s true, my website is a glass house. :)

    I’m now wondering if I should buy some flax seed oil to add to my toddler’s food so his little brain will be sure to develop correctly. (Yes, I’m a paranoid parent, but I did give him the MMR.)

  53. Robert Carnegie said,

    July 4, 2006 at 10:27 pm

    Oh dear, I didn’t mean to get at your Web site! I was thinking of theirs!

    As for flax seed oil as an ingredient… I’m sure you’ll make an informed choice.

    As for your Web site… I was going to say “What an elegantly restrained design” and then the grey-blue washy background image finished loading! :-) But it is a very presentable showcase. Seen from the other side it may be less aesthetic. I did just quite like a dark blue and plain white style! I think in the Opera browser I only see page backgrounds if I want to!

    …Trumps as in Roger Zelazny’s Amber? But wouldn’t Top Trumps be even more fun? ;-)

    …we should have a Bad Science Top Trumps card game, and I’m sure an artist’s contribution would be invaluable! :-)

  54. coffeespoons said,

    July 6, 2006 at 9:44 am

    can anyone tell me where to find studies on omega-3 freely available on the net? just stopped being a student so no longer have access to scifinder etc………
    thanks!

  55. Nurn said,

    July 6, 2006 at 10:16 pm

    We’re all still looking for the magic bullet, then?

  56. Melissa said,

    July 8, 2006 at 3:45 pm

    Eeeeeeee, a Bad Science Top Trumps game would be such fun!!! We could do Bad Scientists throughout history, each holding an iconic representation of their most famous bad science theories!

    Er, I guess I don’t have to mention what McTeeth would be holding. ;)

  57. igb said,

    July 10, 2006 at 7:55 pm

    To answer the question of how much potato salad a man can eat, enough to consume 4 fl oz of oil while making the the mayo would be the answer…

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