Saturday, February 7, 2009


Science is considered truth based and scientific findings are always respected except in a few cases where integrity of some findings is questioned. There is a feeling that lately truth is being sacrificed for publicity and sensationalism and many 'findings' and reports splashed in news papers and other media are retracted or found not true as claimed. Only recently a serious case of scientific misdemeanor was reported in this blog itself, that too in an internationally reputed scientific journal. What action the organization under whose name the paper was published has taken is still a mystery and scientific dishonesty can only prosper if such criminal action is condoned or brushed under the carpet. Such cases do happen in other countries also and it may be difficult for the publishers to really assess the truth in spite of battery of peers assisting them.

The provocation for this blog to raise this crucial subject is the big hue and cry being orchestrated all over the world regarding salt and its harmful effect on health. This may not be due to any vested interest or deliberate distortion of truth but still a misplaced zeal for saving the mankind. While advocacy of action in certain direction may be justifiable if it does not harm the people but if at a future time such actions become regrettable, abundant caution is always the best policy. In an earlier blog the bad side of salt consumption was highlighted because majority of reports on the subject bring out the harmful effects it can have in human system. While over consumption of any thing is not good for any body, salt alone cannot be blamed for many of the ills supposed to be caused by it. Therefore, like all foods salt usage also must be moderated but unlike sugar most people do not like any product over salted, providing an in-built safety cover. What is forgotten is that all human beings are not equal and salt intake precaution is more appropriate for only those with some health problems. Sodium is an important nutrient involved in a variety of body functions and depletion of sodium can have catastrophic consequences. The latest aggressive campaign for achieving targeted reduction of use of salt by the food processing industry is reported in New York which aims to reduce average intake per day per ca pita by 40% in 10 years. UK already has a national program to force industry to reduce salt in their products so that average per ca pita consumption is brought down to 6 g a day. Unless more definitive data are obtained regarding the minimum and maximum salt levels that man needs or can tolerate, such campaigns are ill- advised and ill-conceived and the very credibility of scientists is at stake.

It is not easy to forget those days decades back when every pregnant woman was advised with conviction that weight increase during pregnancy was risky for the mother (preeclampsia) as well as the child (under weight). The result was that child mortality went up while babies born were grossly under weight jeopardizing the quality of life of hundreds of thousands of children when they grew up. Can scientists who propagated such a strategy, obviously based on their scientific studies then, compensate for the lives lost and the sufferings of people on account of such practices? Here again the lesson to be learnt is that only multi group studies keeping in view the diverse background, ethnicity, environments and genetic make up, can end up in a rational scientific conclusion and any particular finding with one population cannot be applied universally to whole of the world.

Most recently, a nutritional controversy is being raked up by the American Heart Association (AHA) which has reversed the hitherto view, widely held by the experts that consumption of too much of Omega-6 fatty acids (n-6 acids) in the diet causes inflammation leading to many diseases and the ratio of Omega-6 acids to Omega-3 acids should not be more than 4 to 1. In reality average ratio is 10:1 to 30:1, especially amongst meat eating populations. In a 180 degree turn around AHA now recommends consumption of n-6 acids to the equivalent of 5-10% of daily calories working to about 12-22 g a day for a healthy adult. Where does the truth lie? No one knows for sure!

This is not to decry science or the scientists but to focus on the uncertainties concerning health, food and nutrition faced by the common man and unless there is unanimity amongst the scientists in what they say concerning life and death issues, confidence in them by the society will be progressively diluted. This must not be allowed to happen for which responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the scientists.


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