Monday Musings: Dairy Fat Good and Placebos Win (with a twist)

Dairy resides in a murky area for some of you guys, but I think most of us can appreciate a good slab of grass-fed butter, maybe a bit of raw cheese, and some fermented dairy, either kefir or yogurt. A select few may not. If dairy makes you feel bad, don’t use it – it’s unnecessary – but if your avoidance stems purely from principle (ie, “it’s a little too Neolithic for me; I’ll just play it safe and avoid it altogether”), the latest study on dairy fat might nudge you toward its thick, viscous, white embrace. Researchers found that patients who ate the most dairy fat, from things like cream, whole milk, and butter, had a 60% lower risk of developing diabetes than patients eating the least dairy fat.

Those who ate the most dairy fat also showed the highest plasma levels of a fatty acid called trans-palmitoleic acid, prompting the study’s authors to zero in on that particular fatty acid as the potentially causative factor. There is a tendency to reduce foods to their individual constituents. Individual constituents, after all, can be “candidates for potential enrichment… and supplementation,” which makes a doctor’s job that much easier, and makes it easy to explain away “paradoxes.” Just wait: trans-palmitoleic acid is gonna be the new red wine when it comes to explaining the “French paradox.” At the end of the day, though, they do admit that “efforts to promote exclusive consumption of low-fat and nonfat dairy products … may be premature.” Hey, it ain’t much, but I’ll take it.

Next, there’s new research on the placebo effect. The major criticism of clinical use of the placebo effect is that it’s unethical for doctors to lie to patients, even if their ultimate goal is to help them, because, well, lying is bad. But what if they didn’t have to lie to manifest the placebo effect? What if patients who knowingly took a placebo sugar pill still showed improvements over the control group who received no treatment at all? If that happened, I imagine things might have to be reevaluated.

Well, it happened. Eighty patients with irritable bowel syndrome were divided into two groups. The first group received a sugar pill twice daily and took it knowingly; 59% reported reduced IBS symptoms and “adequate relief.” Of the second group, who received nothing, 35% reported similarly good results. There was no blatant deception, but the placebo group was told that sugar pills “have been shown in rigorous clinical testing to produce significant mind-body self-healing processes,” so it’s possible the placebo group was expecting something to come of it. Which, you know, is pretty much the basic foundation of the placebo effect. Science-Based Medicine is up in arms about this study, and while I don’t disagree that some measure of deceit was used, I’m not sure I agree that it’s necessarily a bad thing. I think it just reinforces how much control we have over our own health. And no, I’m not talking about anything mystical or magical. I’m just saying that if we slow down for a minute, take a few deep breaths, and realize that stressing out over a sickness – real or imagined – does us no good, we seem to start to feel better. It certainly has worked in placebo trials.

It appears the placebo effect has a lot to do with confidence: in a doctor’s expert opinion, in that pill you’re about to swallow, in the “fact” that things are going to get better because you’re either in good hands or taking effective drugs. You add that to a healthy diet, regular exercise, some sun, some outdoorsy stuff, socializing, leisure, good sleep, and smart use of pharmacologically-active modern medicines? You’re in business. Oh, and dairy fat might help, too.

How’s your relationship with dairy? Does this study make you want a closer one? And do you think you’d be won over by a sweet-talking researcher with pockets full of sugar pills? Let everyone know in the comment section!

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 more than three decades 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 flavorful and delicious kitchen staples crafted with premium ingredients like avocado oil. With over 70 condiments, sauces, oils, and dressings in their lineup, Primal Kitchen makes it easy to prep mouthwatering meals that fit into your lifestyle.

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