Sunday, 29 April 2012

Cholesterol....the truth: Part 2b - The Roseto Paradox

So...I have two key points before I get in to the brief details of this blog:

The first is that I initially resisted writing this blog because I really didn't want to labour the point of the previous blog about what really causes heart disease. That it isn't cholesterol, or meat, or fat. That it's stress. Plain and simple. But that blog originally posted at the start of the month has had near 2,500 hits this month so it seems to have been greeted well. My hope is that the same number of people have gone out and bought the book "The Great Cholesterol Con" by Malcolm Kendrick.

The second point is that we should be very careful when we hear the term paradox in any scientific sense. A paradox is basically contradictory evidence. But it seems that in modern science if we just label something a paradox then we don't have to explain why it's a paradox. The reality of contradictory evidence is a bit of a vicious cycle - we have a hypothesis, then something doesn't fit the hypothesis so we label it a paradox and don't go any further. We stick to our original hypothesis because other evidence (perhaps the majority) supports it, and so we say "heck this can't be right!?", or we simply label it 'paradox' and move on. We know it doesn't support the hypothesis but if we look at it too long we'd have to bin the hypothesis and start over and that doesn't seem right. No; that seems ABSOLUTELY right. Enough with the paradox. A paradox means the hypothesis is wrong; no matter how many papers support it, the hypothesis needs amendment. The other way around contradictory evidence is a more simple process of what is almost denial. The example I often give my students is the black swan. If we consider the hypothesis that all swans are white but then we find a black swan then denial simply says "well it can't be a swan!", why? - because it's not white. We don't look at the hypothesis and say; "hmmm, maybe all swans are not white, maybe some are black!?" - we just reject and deny. Sigh.

So... to the Roseto 'Paradox'
Well the previous blog talked extensively about how it is not diet but rather stress that causes, or at least increases risk of, heart disease. Roseto is a small town in Pennsylvania, populated by a majority of Italian immigrants, that for quite literally decades had an incredibly low rate of heart disease. Most sources suggest that it was in the 1950's that it was first identified that there was almost no heart disease in anyone below the average of 55 years old, and that in men over 65 the death rate as a result of heart disease was about 50% the national average, and that the death rate from all causes was 30-35% lower than it should have been.

So how? It soon became a very well researched town, where the following conclusions were drawn about the Rosetans lifestyles:

- there was no suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, and very little crime
- they didn't have anyone on welfare
- they cooked with lard not the supposedly healthier olive oil (if you read this blog regularly you'll find that this is a common theme in paleo health and in fact lard is much healthier)
- they ate more sausage, pepperoni, salami, ham and eggs (fatty meat, etc)
- their dietary analysis revealed approximately 41% of their calories came from fat
- there were no signs of early morning joggers, or yoga fanatics
- many Rosetans smoked heavily and were obese

Ultimately many of these factors are perceived to be risk factors for cardiovascular disease, but this small population seemed to be a paradox to this hypothesis. When people from the surrounding area were investigated they found them to be within normal US levels; e.g. they were suffering from heart disease, but somehow the Rosetans were eluding this condition in spite of these 'risk' factors.

Eventually researchers observed, that it was indeed the way Rosetans lived, but not the pre-conceived ideas. It was that they stopped to talk to each other in the street. That they cooked for each in their backyards. They had close-knit extended family support networks, including how many homes had 3 generations living under one roof, and how much respect grandparents commanded. They all went to mass and saw a calming effect from this. They picked up on the equality within the village irrespective of financial wealth or relative poverty and a system that discouraged flaunting wealth and seeked to obscure poverty.

In short this was a population of about 2,000 persons who generally lived a very relaxed lifestyle. There was little stress. Unfortunately if you look in to the more recent research on this town you'll find that with social evolution, a growing community and the likely unavoidable stresses of modern life they have gradually moved closer to the norm, rate of heart disease has increased, and so forth. The following article considers some of the changes. Sad times.

Anyway, I reckon that'll about do the stress discussion for now.

Be well


1 comment:

  1. Hi,
    I have a quick question about your blog, do you think you could email me?