The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Yogurt, Science, and Lies

I was just listening to an episode of WNYC's Radiolab which focused on the digestive tract.  One of the issues that is discussed in the episode is research into the role that intestinal bacteria play in altering brain chemistry, and therefore, mood.  As goofy as this may sound, it makes a certain degree of sense when you look at the map of nerves within the body and the roles of the brain and the gut in making sure that we are nourished and surviving. 

One researcher being interviewed claims that the results that he has gotten from altering the gut bacteria via diet is comparable to many anti-depressant drugs.  These results have been published int he Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.  Specifically, the researcher used different types of yogurt.  Now, this is one researcher, and there is still a long, long way to go in figuring out if and how these findings could be adapted into meaningful treatments.  But, the research is interesting, and on-going, and does seem to show some promise.

I write about this not because it is interesting in and of itself, though it certainly is, but because this is precisely the sort of research that most people who subscribe to naturopathy claim isn't occurring, or claim is being suppressed by "big pharma" - and yet, here it is, occurring, being published in major journals, and being discussed in a national radio show.  In other words, people who claim that non-pharmaceutical interventions are never examined or considered by doctors, because they are in the thrall of their "big pharma" overlords, you can point to this and call the claimant on their bullshit. 

And this is hardly an isolated incident.  Research into the role of diet in preventing/causing disease, and of general preventative medicine (including diet, but also exercise, emotional well-being, etc.) is done constantly in  major labs around the world, and published in major journals.  In fact, it is a rare occasion that someone will tell me that some non-pharmaceutical or surgical intervention is "not being studied because of big pharma" and that I can not immediately go to PubMed and pull up studies proving that the person making the claim is wholly ignorant of what is actually being done.

There are legitimate concerns with private industry funding research (though, it should be said, there are also benefits to it - it's not all bad or all good), and these issues do get discussed and are actually routinely brought up in the very professional journals that the naturopaths falsely claim won't publish findings critical of industry.  However, there is a good deal of medical research funded via a number of different avenues with both public and private funds, and the research covers a wide range of subjects.  Whenever someone claims that a particular subject is not researched because "big pharma doesn't want it researched" or because "there's no money in it" or because "scientists are afraid it will overturn what they want you to believe", you are dealing with someone who is wholly and completely ignorant of science, of medicine, and who is likely to hypocritically accuse others of "being sheep" while uncritically swallowing nonsense themselves.

So, there you go, regular old yogurt studied by legitimate scientists as a stress and depression control therapy.  It's in it's early stages, but the research is on-going, and it's existence proves many of the popular claims regarding medical research oh so very wrong.  Keep that in mind the next time someone tries to make you believe that some miracle cure isn't being studied because of some massive corporate conspiracy.

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