It is little wonder we get confused about medical research findings – especially when it comes to food. Previously some 50 random ingredients in recipes were selected and a search done on studies involving them. Turns out that for 43 out of 50 there was an equal number of studies showing an increase and decrease in rates of cancer associated with the item in question.
Coffee has been getting a lot of attention recently.
One week there were three studies on the effects of coffee on the medical newswires on the same day. And it should come as no surprise that the findings are contradictory.
The headline of “Caffeine both good and bad for menopause” was a pointer. One study had shown that caffeine consumption worsened hot flushes in menopausal women whilst another showed that caffeine improved mental function in the same group.
And just to muddy the waters further the hot flush finding was the opposite of previous work showing caffeine worsened flushes.
The third study claimed that it was a myth that caffeine impaired athletic performance in hot conditions. Funny, I always thought caffeine was a potential performance enhancer.
There are some really important things to understand when being bombarded by the latest research. Most of what is claimed to be a breakthrough is not and will never be heard of again.
When you see claims of a certain food or activity being “linked” or “associated” with something be highly suspicious. It is very easy to make statistical linkages. But the fact that two things may happen at the same time does not mean one causes the other.
Correlation does not equal causation.
This is where the contradictory messages come from because, to go back to our first example, caffeine in reality neither worsens nor improves menopausal symptoms. It is however the case that in one study group who drank coffee, there was improvement and in another there was not.
You might as well correlate this with which TV news coverage that women watched. You would be able to get a statistical correlation without too much effort.
There is one final key point here. Not everything we eat or drink has to be seen through the prism of whether it is good for us or not. For the main we need to eat real rather than processed food. But we can also enjoy treats for no reason other than we enjoy them and eating it makes us happy.
So for those who enjoy coffee, simply enjoy your cuppa and pay no attention to the latest research.
Medical Doctor, author, speaker, media presenter and health industry consultant, Dr Joe Kosterich wants you to be healthy and get the most out of life.
Joe writes for numerous medical and mainstream publications, is clinical editor at Medical Forum Magazine, and is also a regular on radio and television.
Joe is Medical Advisor to Medicinal Cannabis Company Little Green Pharma, Chairman of Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association and sits on the board of Arthritis and Osteoporosis WA. He is often called to give opinions in medico legal cases.