A series of studies characterized as “revolutionary” seem to show that low fat diets do not reduce the health risks from diseases such as Breast Cancer, Colorectal Cancer, and Cardiovascular Disease. This shocking news was reported in the February 8, 2006 issue of the New York Times, and was originally published as three separate but related studies in the February 8, 2006 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, (JAMA).
These studies were part of a very large US federal study costing $415 million and included 49,000 women ages 50 to 79 who were followed for eight years. The researchers reported that those assigned to a low-fat diet had the same rates of breast cancer, colon cancer, heart attacks and strokes as those who ate whatever they pleased. The results of this study shocked not only the medical community, but even the researchers themselves.
Dr. Jules Hirsch, physician in chief emeritus at Rockefeller University in New York City, who has spent a lifetime studying the effects of diets on weight and health, stated, “These studies are revolutionary. They should put a stop to this era of thinking that we have all the information we need to change the whole national diet and make everybody healthy.”
Dr. Michael Thun, who directs epidemiological research for the American Cancer Society, chimed in on the validity of this large study by classifying this study as, “the Rolls-Royce of studies”, and saying, “We usually have only one shot at a very large-scale trial on a particular issue.”
According to the New York Times the study investigators agreed that low-fat diets to the public to reduce their heart disease and cancer risk was no longer justified.
There are however, opponents to the study. Dr. Dean Ornish, a longtime promoter of low-fat diets and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, disagrees and stated that the women in the study did not reduce their fat to low enough levels or eat enough fruits and vegetables. He also argued that the study, even though eight years long, did not give the low fat diets enough time to show effect.
Barbara V. Howard, an epidemiologist at MedStar Research Institute, a nonprofit hospital group, and a principle investigator in the study, said, “We are not going to reverse any of the chronic diseases in this country by changing the composition of the diet. People are always thinking it’s what they ate. They are not looking at how much they ate or that they smoke or that they are sedentary”
At the end of the New York Times article, Dr. Nanette K. Wenger, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta summed up the findings by saying, “What we are saying is that a modest reduction of fat and a substitution with fruits and vegetables did not do anything for heart disease and stroke or breast cancer or colorectal cancer.” She then placed this in context by adding the comment, “It doesn’t say that this diet is not beneficial.”