It reads like a classic 1960s spy novel. A health crisis… a hidden agenda… scientists swayed to reach a pre-determined conclusion… a 50-year disinformation campaign… and you, dear reader, the pawns in an international high-stakes shell game.
No, this isn’t another story on the tobacco industry. It’s all about sugar. And how a handful of scientists appear to have traded your health for a pocketful of cash.
This is the story of Big Sugar and your heart.
The Dawn of a Health Crisis
In the 1950s, heart health was an emerging crisis. Coronary heart disease – CHD – was taking down far too many Americans. And doctors were trying to figure out why. And how could they slow the growth of this killer?
Two competing theories emerged. On one side, there were those who said cholesterol was the problem and saturated fat was the cause. Too much “sat fat” in your diet raised cholesterol levels and led to CHD.
On the other side were scientists who said added sugars were the problem. Their research showed sucrose raised cholesterol and triglycerides… and led to higher rates of CHD and death.
The lines were drawn, but the sides weren’t even. There was no pro-cholesterol lobby. But there was a Sugar Research Foundation (SRF). And they made some calculations. Putting the blame on sat fat as the cause of high cholesterol – and thus CHD – could be very profitable.
Cut fat intake to 20% of calories… replace those calories with “healthy” sugar… and you’d increase people’s intake of added sugars by a third. Boost sales by a third in one fell swoop? The answer was pretty clear.
The industry had to “prove” the fat-cholesterol-CHD connection… and show that sugar was the healthy alternative. How do you do that? Why, buy the science, of course.
Here’s the Study… Here’s Your Material… and Here Are Your Conclusions
In 1965, the SRF essentially hired researchers to prove cholesterol was the culprit behind CHD… and fat the cause of high cholesterol. So they paid two scientists to review the existing literature.
The SRF also provided a lot of the material to review. And hinted – not too broadly – what their concerns were.
University of California (UC) researchers recently uncovered 1,582 pages of text documenting the process that culminated in Project 226, a remarkably biased review of scientific literature that came to the exact conclusion the SRF wanted…
Sat fat and cholesterol were the causes of the rise in CHD. And the research pointing to sugar was flawed or invalid.
50 years later, we’re still experiencing the fallout. In spite of mounting evidence that sugar plays a large role in CHD – the #1 killer in the developed world.
50,000 Reasons to Let Sugar Off the Hook
The main researchers had plenty of reasons to reach the SRF’s preferred conclusion. In fact, they had 50,000 of them. Because that’s the value of the direct payments they received from the SRF in 2016 dollars.
$50,000 is a lot of money. Especially for career academics. And while the UC researchers point out their evidence is only circumstantial… it’s still pretty damning.
The final report – published in two issues of the New England Journal of Medicine – was clearly biased in favor of the sugar industry. Complaints the authors made about studies on sugar and CHD were overlooked in fat studies. Weaknesses in fat studies were glossed over. And the role of triglycerides in CHD risk was all but ignored.
Not surprisingly, this made sat fat look bad… and sugar look like a dietary angel in comparison.
The researchers also failed to disclose the contributions – both in terms of funding and direction – from the SRF in their article.
And the ploy worked. For the next 50 years, the medical world has focused on sat fat – and almost ignored sugar – in terms of CHD.
“He Who Pays the Piper Calls the Tune”
“There are all kinds of ways that you can subtly manipulate the outcome of a study,” said UCSF professor Stanton A. Glantz, “which industry is very well practiced at.”
“As the saying goes, he who pays the piper calls the tune,” he added.
“There is now a considerable body of evidence linking added sugars to hypertension and cardiovascular disease…” pointed out co-author Laura Schmidt PhD. “Yet, health policy documents are still inconsistent in citing heart disease risk as a health consequence of added sugars consumption.”
Like Big Tobacco before them, Big Sugar seems to have put profits before public health. And the lesson for us all?
To paraphrase the researchers it’s learning who’s behind the studies… and how much they’re paying for the results.
About the Author: Jason Kennedy is a celebrated investigative health writer and the author of The X-Factor Revolution and Beyond the Blue Zone. With over 10 years of experience working with today’s leading alternative and anti-aging doctors, Jason shares his insider status and access to the latest breakthroughs with thousands of readers from around world.
Kearns, C.E., et al, “Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research – A Historical Analysis of Internal Industry Documents,” JAMA Intern Med. Published online September 12, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.5394.
Fernandez,E. “UCSF reveals how sugar industry influenced national conversation on heart disease,” University of California, San Francisco. Sep12, 2016.
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