6 Older Studies That Got No Love but Should Have

Inline_Studies“Back in my day, science came harder. We may not have had your fancy longitudinal data analyzing software, your iterated pool of available data upon which to build, or your worldwide network of instantaneous communication and information transmission, but we rolled up our sleeves and got to work just the same. And man did we do some science and discover some things. Boy, you don’t even know the half of it.”

When I turn my sights back to older research, I realize that a lot of this stuff we “discover” in health and nutrition has already been found, or at least hinted at. Today, I’m going to explore some of my favorite research from years past that, if posted to Science Daily or linked on Twitter today, would get a huge response.

Carnivory and Aging

It’s 2018, and very low-carb eating is on the rise. From Bitcoin carnivores to the success of the Keto Reset to the zero-carb movement, there’s a growing acknowledgement that eating as little glucose as possible may stave off some of the aging-related maladies that plague us. But it’s not exactly new. Back in 2006—okay, not that long ago, but longer you think at first glance (12 years!)—researchers were exploring the role a carnivorous diet could play in anti-aging.

Bacon and Colon Cancer

In 1998, scientists set out to induce colon cancer in rats using different sources of protein and fat. Since “everyone knows” red meat causes colon cancer, they wanted confirmation. There were ten groups of rats with different fat and protein sources and amounts. One diet was based on casein and lard. Another was casein and olive oil. Another was beef. Another was chicken with skin. And the last was a diet based on bacon. For each diet, one group got 14% fat/23% protein and the other got 28% fat/40% protein. They tracked ACF multiplicity—the formation and spread of aberrant crypts, the structures that presage the beginning of colon cancer.

All of the rats experienced about the same degree of increase in ACF multiplicity—except for the bacon-fed rats. The rats on the 30% bacon diet had 12% lower ACF multiplicity. The rats on the 60% bacon diet had 20% lower ACF multiplicity. The bacon was protective against colon cancer, and it was dose-dependent protection.

Flummoxed, the authors hypothesize that the nitrate-induced hyperhydration—the bacon-fed rats drank more water than the others—was able to counter the carcinogenic effects of all that bacon. Sure.

This is a rat study and far from definitive, but I almost never see anyone cite it. It’s one of my all-time favorites.

Magnesium and Heart Disease

A doctor tells his patient that he has heart disease. Gives him a list of prescriptions to fill, tells him to cut out the fat and lower the salt, recommends he “exercise regularly.” Standard stuff. Why isn’t “take magnesium” on that list of best practices? Why isn’t getting a blood magnesium test standard alongside a blood lipids test? A 1981 paper found convincing evidence that low serum magnesium had the strongest correlation with heart disease. A 2013 review had the same conclusion.

Mildred Seelig studied this for decades, exploring the mechanistic underpinnings of magnesium deficiency and heart disease, the role of magnesium in congestive heart failure, the utility of magnesium infusion in acute myocardial infarction, She and her results received little acknowledgement by the medical community.

As recently as 2004, Seelig was showing that magnesium accomplishes many of the same effects as statins without the negative side effects. We really should have listened to her.

Sugar and Heart Disease

In the late 60s and early 70s, as most nutrition researchers focused their ire on saturated fat and cholesterol using spotty data, John Yudkin was exploring the role of dietary sugar in heart disease. He actually showed back in 1969 that sugar consumption made blood “stickier”—increased platelet adhesion, an indication of arterial injury—and insulin skyrocket in certain people, and these people were at a greater risk of heart disease. He highlighted the strong connection between elevated insulin and atheroma (the degeneration of arterial walls).

If only we’d adopted his paradigm then.

Cheese, Meat, and Colon Cancer

“No, because I make sure to eat lots of meat and cheese, especially together in the same meal.” Say that next time anyone asks if you’re worried about getting colon cancer on your “caveman diet.” They’ll laugh, but it’s true. Researchers have known this for decades.

Don’t believe me? In order for animals to develop colon cancer from eating red meat, researchers must deprive them of calcium. Calcium, particularly in the form of cheese and in the context of a meat-rich diet, protects against colon cancer.

One study even cooked the hell out of Swiss cheese to modify the casein in the cheese, supposedly turning it carcinogenic. But when the rats ate the cooked cheese, their ACF multiplicity dropped.

Low Cholesterol and Mortality

Recent research has established connections between high cholesterol and longevity (0r low cholesterol and mortality). PD Mangan just wrote a great blog post detailing the results of some of this research, but this “problem” of low cholesterol and high all-cause mortality goes back decades.

And it is a problem for the lipid hypothesis. What do you do when you “just know” that lowering cholesterol is healthy, but the data doesn’t want to cooperate? When Japanese-American men with the lowest cholesterol have the highest mortality? You blame “unadjusted analyses.” Raw data showing an increase in total mortality from lipid lowering must be massaged!

Science progresses by building upon the scaffolds previous generations have erected—on older research. And those older studies are often just as powerful, groundbreaking, and illuminating as the newer studies. You just have to look.

I’m interested in hearing from you. Hop on Pubmed, filter out any results published in the last twenty or so years, and report what you find. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised and the breadth and depth of research.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care and share your favorite pieces of older research!


About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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33 thoughts on “6 Older Studies That Got No Love but Should Have”

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  1. Oops, I think I should look into a good calcium supplement. I certainly don’t want one who worsen my constipation.

    1. Ethan these people seem to be the opposite extreme of, yet equally annoying, those folks that try to guilt you into becoming a vegan. Good luck with a 100% meat and fat diet, don’t know of any group of people who live in the Blue Zones, the longest living and happiest folks on the planet, eating such an extreme diet.

      1. cool story Hombre. However, even in the article Amber cites by Mark, Mark basically says you can get all the nutrients you need from meat, liver and other organs

        1. Jordan Peterson and his daughter (both apparently just LOADED with auto-immune probs — she had her hip replaced around age 16; and almost her opposite ankle — a smart physio ‘fixed’ the out-of-place bone: so NO “immediate ankle replacement required” as her rhem. arthrit. doc insisted {sigh}). She, apparently discovered on her own (Peterson brags) how to ”treat” her AI problems with food, which Peterson follows: he says his AI problems stay away as long as all he eats is “meat and greens”! (Interestingly, they both are on anti-depressants, too. Good interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6g_geYeL4U 20 min.) (Peterson has since mentioned with huge delight that she and her husband have had a BABY!)

        2. Ethan, I don’t think anyone has claimed that you can get your absolutely necessary vitamin C from meat, liver, and other organs. You HAVE heard of scurvy, right?

          1. A small serving of liver has more than enough vitamin C to ward off scurvy, which requires < 10mg per day. Fresh meat as a staple typically provides enough as well.

            Sailors used to get scurvy from lack of vitamin C, but it was from being at sea for long periods of time eating preserved meat as a staple. The preservation process had destroyed the bulk of the low levels of vitamin C in the meat, preventing them from getting the levels they needed. So I would agree if you're on the all beef jerky diet, scurvy is an issue, but if you're eating a diet rich in fresh meat, particularly one that includes organ meat, then not so much.

      2. If the Blue Zone people ate only meat, perhaps they might they live even longer and healthier before they dropped dead. Perhaps the optimal human diet is a carnivorous one?

        1. LOL … if all these people, who share in common a diet that includes vegetables and fruit, some meat, healthy fats … ate nothing but meat they MIGHT be healthier?

          1. The carnivores use all sorts of fun lines of reasoning.

        2. So, David, as I asked Ethan above, have you never heard of scurvy?

      3. Native Americans of the Arctic like the Inuit come pretty close to a meat and get diet

        1. That’s a myth that is perpetrated by many that the Intuit were exceptionally healthy, not the case if you do some digging.

    2. As the literature doesn’t support the hypothesis that vegetables are unnecessary for optimal human performance, I doubt it.

      1. As “the literature” (ALSO) lies about an above-PANAMAX-sized boatload of things…. not sure it’s the best ‘appeal to authority’ you can use…

        “The literature” says to insanely lower your cholesterol, and that the increasing polar ice and massive cold weathers are global warming caused by mankind and refuses to look at the many many repeating, normal cycles throughout history/prehistory to see they are 100% NORMAL cycling: there’s an ICE AGE coming! (We’ve already started the slide down hill! Got your sled prepped?!)

  2. After losing 55 lbs effortlessly on keto — 55 lbs that I had gained as a grain-eating runner — I wondered, where did Atkins originally get the idea for a low-carb/higher-fat diet?

    It was straight out of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

    A New Concept in the Treatment of Obesity.
    Edgar S. Gordon MD, Marshall Goldberg MD, Grace J. Chosy, BS.
    JAMA Vol. 186, No. 1, pp. 156-166, 1963 Oct 5

    excerpts posted at

    From the intro: “Within any society which is provided with an abundant food supply….certain individuals will become overweight and many will not. Furthermore, among the obese group, therapeutic weight reduction is a relatively easy procedure for some and exceedingly difficult for many others. Excluding those numerous individuals who are deceiving themselves (and their doctors) into believing that they eat little but fail to lose weight, there remains a significant group which can be demonstrated under metabolic ward conditions to lose weight very slowly and with great difficulty when caloric restriction is imposed upon them. ….”

    What an admission from JAMA no less. Simply put, the conventional wisdom of “calories in/calories out,” “eat less/move more”, was KNOWN TO BE WRONG, from metabolic ward studies, more than 50 years ago!! And this gem:

    “One unexpected dividend that has emerged from the institution of this [carb restricted] therapeutic program has been the spontaneous evolution of new and more beneficial dietary habits in a great many patients who have commented with great surprise about the apparent loss of old compulsions to eat and modification of cravings for certain high-carbohydrate foods.”

    I found a complete copy somewhere that wasn’t paywalled, (it seems to have disappeared), but I remember clearly that it explained the whole carb/ insulin/ obesity/ type-2 diabetes /heart disease axis — “Metabolic Syndrome” — in full detail. Well… until then, I thought this was all new science. No! As I read through the paper, I felt a rising sense of rage — the truth was known before I was born! I never had to get fat, my Dad maybe could have lived to see his grandchildren, millions of others didn’t have to suffer.

    My next google search was basically, did the McGovern commission know about this when they made their disastrous recommendations in the 1970s? Short answer, yes, they knew the truth, and rejected it.

    1. Hi Shary and Paul:
      Look for Sugar Free Sheila, most likely you know about her, she is a shining example of Atkins, also a good source of informacion and recipes

    1. Yeah, he was one of the front runners for eating low-carb. I used his methods years ago. I later switched to those of Dr. Diana Schwartzbein (“The Schwartzbein Principle”). She’s a Santa Barbara endocrinologist who was using a low-carb diet to get her diabetic patients off medication long before the word “Paleo” ever became a household word. There are no doubt numerous other early adherents who are much less well known.

    2. I agree too. By bring low carb into the mainstream, Atkins paved the way for Primal. In fact I’ll often tell someone by way of being tactful “You’d probably benefit from a dose of Dr Atkins”, the reason being that Paleo and Primal are still a bit new on the scene, whereas every man and his dog’s heard of Atkins.

      1. Every man and his dog has heard of Atkins, but most people miss the point of it and think that Atkins is “high protein!” Eating fat to lose fat, is so counterintuitive that many people can’t mentally process the idea, and since they see Atkins dieters eating lots of meat, they automatically assume that high protein is the magic ingredient. So I always lead with, “I lost 55 lbs on a low-carb/high FAAAAAT diet!”, and don’t mention Atkins ti later in the conversation.

  3. This is valuable information and always applicable to common health concerns. Wow.

  4. I love red meat…and fish…and poultry. But I don’t think I could be healthy without a little fruit and a lot of veggies as well.

    1. I agree, Shary, vegetables are the highlight of my meals and I believe in eating healthy foods that make me happy. I would not be happy without vegetables.

  5. In these circles his studies don’t really need mention, but in the general public the studies of Weston A. Price, as published in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, ought to have received more recognition and have had a greater impact.

  6. Great post.

    So many good research articles.

    It should be a weekly thing.

    “10 articles that go against the grain.”

    Pun intended.

  7. Interesting that the authors postulate the increased NaCl was the benefit for the bacon diet. Increased NaCl can help with constipation so maybe the benefit is increased clearance of stool from the colon?