Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Great Health Data Deficit: Are Environmental causes for Disease a Mirage?

Ever since I was a child the message has been eat your greens (we got caned at primary school if we didn’t), you need to exercise, carrots will make you see in the dark, an apple a day keeps the doctor away. It continues today with the “5 a day”, all the healthy food pyramids, anti-junk foods, and so on. Yes the environment can be dangerous, it can kill us.

There are some indisputable examples, a bullet in the head for example, or getting hit by a car is an environmental impact that almost always results in injury and death. There are others on which we more or less agree, like smoking is harmful (evidence is very strong, although it has never actually been proven, who knows, it could be the regular movement of hand to mouth that causes all the damage, we need to do the proper controlled trial…)

For the rest we have always sort of somehow known that eating badly can cause disease – it seemed so obvious, and all the little research studies just confirmed what we knew and lead to the rise of the “big” health and big-organic industries.

But a strange thing has been happening, now that the results of the very large scale experiments are arriving, we are seeing something unexpected. Just a few examples:

What’s going on? – the scientists are now starting to argue with each other about where this “missing causality” must be.

[insert here a few hundred lines of sciency reasonable arguments. Make some valid points about the extremist denialists who say things like junk food is nutritionally useless – show the nutritional value of the Big Mac: protein and important essential fats, lycopene (in the ketchup), fibre (in the carton). Point out that despite all the doom and gloom life expectancy in all the “Western diet” countries is actually the highest it has ever been… and so on]

Then come to the clincher: Just recently the “health bandwagon” scientists have finally admitted that the last 50 years of their research has been useless and new research models are required if we are ever going to find the “missing causality” and the “missing prevention”.

But I say it is time to stop this waste of resources, their call is just an excuse to keep that bandwagon rollin’ along – the conclusion is obvious to anyone who does not have a vested interest:

It all means that genes must be the entire cause of ill health, i.e. junk food, pollution, lack of exercise, etc. do not have any impact whatsoever. We believe that if people live right, agricultur­e and therefore the planet will be more or less irrelevant and our genes will get us in the end, whatever we do

Some may disagree with this, in fact they might find it to be a rather silly conclusion

I do

PS I anyone is wondering what I am going on about please see AND


  1. Keith, you are a genius. Now I know for sure.

  2. I agree with everything in this post, including the conclusion. Years of working with budding yeast (and bacteria prior to that; plus stint of fly work) taught me that genetics ordinarily contributes far more to phenotype than environment ever will. IMO most yeast-, fly-, worm-, fish-, and mouse geneticists would agree with that view. The fact that GWAS of common variants hasn't fully explained heritability and pathophysiology of human disease is beyond incredibly narrow-minded, short-sighted, and impatient. And, as hinted at in this post, genetic understanding has proceeded, and will continue to, faster than understanding of potential environmental disrupters ever will.

  3. Moreno - thanks, usually I agree with you, not this time though. However note that the word is GENius and not ENVius... what does that tell us?

    Robert, thanks, and I'm sure that whole genome sequencing of populations will explain the strange phenotype of those who think that the environment has any importance at all...

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