A conflict of interest Dairy Council funded study of only 15 people concludes that cheese is good for your heart. The study also excludes the scientific logic of ‘correlation does not imply causation’.
Everyone is being told to spit out whatever their currently eating and to shove their faces full of brie, because dairy cheese is good for your heart according to a recent study by a group of Danish scientists.
The scientists wanted to investigate the so-called ‘French Paradox’ where the French don’t seem to suffer from cardiovascular disease as much as their high saturated fat, high cholesterol diets would suggest. However, there actually isn’t a ‘French Paradox’ at all. French authorities collect health statistics differently to other countries—French Pathologists don’t write down heart disease when someone dies of a heart attack, but rather claim old age, and so on.
In the actual study they took only 15 people and fed them equal calorie diets but one had more milk fat, one had more cheese, and one had more butter. Upon examining the men’s urine and feces, they found that the cheese group had lower levels of a molecule called TMAO (trimethylamine N-oxide), made by gut microbes when they break down animal-based foods and are linked to cardiovascular disease. The article then suggests that the study, funded directly by the Dairy Council, proves that it is in fact cheese preventing heart disease.
However, just because there is a correlation between two variables does not necessarily imply that one causes the other.
Did the study actually show the cheese group having less heart disease? Less hypertension? Less angina? No, no and no. These were healthy young and middle age people—there were no cardiac events in this short term study. Instead, the scientists looked only at a metabolite TMAO with a known association to heart disease.
All this tiny, short term study achieved was stating that the cheese has a lower TMAO than butter. They looked at a lab value without looking at the actual disease, did not have an actual control, and did not compare it to a plant-based group, known to produce the lowest TMAO.
The conclusion that cheese is good for your heart because it has a lower TMAO than butter is utterly unsound.
Industry Funded Studies and Conflict of Interest
This study was funded by the Dairy Council resulting in a direct conflict of interest.
There has been a known established link between industry funded nutrition-related scientific articles never showing a negative impact of the sponsors’ product. However, when studies are not funded by industry, outcomes show products to be harmful up to 37% of the time.
Industry funded studies have bias conclusions and potentially significant implications for public health—they cannot be ethically trusted.
Marion Nestle founded Food Politics after she began collecting studies which served the interests of their sponsors. Before 2000, it was unheard of for journals to share the name of sponsors, while now that is the normal practice. It is imperative that people pay attention before simply believing and sharing studies on the Internet.
During July of this year, Nestle brought attention to a collection of industry-funded research that exonerated orange juice, high-fat cheese, and sugar of various harms. In all, she has found 37 such self-serving studies since March.