Nutrition Researcher: ‘One Little Thing At A Time Never Makes A Difference’

RELATED TOPICS News on the state’s largest health insurers; the effects of health care reform on coverage; rising premium costs. RELATED TOPICS July 29, 2013 | 10:30 AM | Carey Goldberg Nutrition Researcher: One Little Thing At A Time Never Makes A Difference Permalink Among all my weekend media-reading, heres the bit that keeps echoing in my mind: In a long Boston Globe Magazine feature titled Walter Willetts Food Fight , about the famously mustachoied and outspoken (in a data-driven way, of course) Harvard researcher, way down near the end, comes a daunting vignette that rings exceedingly true. Christopher Gardner, the director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, confesses to suffering from a professional midlife crisis. To wit: He explains that what we know about nutrition so far comes from big studies like Willetts and small targeted trials like his. Willett watches thousands of people, year after year, to see who dies and who lives. But Willett cant prove that it was, say, the whole grains in their diet that protected them so Gardner runs randomized trials to isolate one element and try to determine cause and effect. Heres what he finds instead: One little thing at a time never makes a difference. A few years ago, Gardner ran a National Institutes of Health-funded study on garlic. Because he must test a specific hypothesis, lest he be accused of going on a fishing expedition, he asked whether one clove per day helped lower cholesterol in people with moderately elevated levels. Six months and $1.4 million later, he found no effect. I couldnt even answer: Is garlic good for you? he says.

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