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The sweet truth about industry funded research

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By Ross Walker

We are now entering the murky waters of ‘industry funded research.’ Regardless of what aspect of research you are examining, once vested interests are involved, you must really sharpen your crap detector.

In 1967, three former nutritionists from the Harvard Medical School released a paper claiming that dietary fats, rather than sugar, were the primary cause for coronary heart disease.

It has only recently been discovered that these three researchers were paid $6,500 each at the time by the sugar industry to divert attention away from previous studies linking sugar to coronary heart disease.

In today's money, that’s equivalent to around $50,000 each.

Let's now move from sugar to artificial sweeteners.

A recent study performed by the University of Sydney has shown significant bias in industry funded research into artificial sweeteners. This research has misled millions of people by overstating the health benefits of artificial sweeteners over sugar.

The study showed that any research funded by artificial sweetener companies was 17 times more likely to present positive results in favour of the sweeteners.

The researchers looked at 31 studies performed between 1978 to 2014 on the potential benefits of artificial sweeteners for weight loss and diabetes.

Of these studies, half of the authors did not disclose their conflict of interest, and one-third failed to reveal their funding sources.

Where there was a clear conflict of interest, studies were seven times more likely to show favourable conclusions. In the nine studies where there was no clear conflict of interest, none of these trials showed positive results for artificial sweeteners.

Just as pervasive were the studies funded by competitive companies who marketed either sugary drinks or water. In these four studies, the trials did not show any advantage for artificial sweeteners.

But let’s not just pick on the artificial sweeteners industry or the sugar industry, and also examine what is happening in the pharmaceutical world.

Recently, The Lancet published a review from Oxford University, claiming the health benefits of statin drugs were being underestimated and the side effects of these drugs were being overstated.

Soon after the release of this paper, an article was written in the UK press suggesting the head researcher, Professor Rory Collins, had allegedly received millions of dollars from the pharmaceutical companies who manufacture statin drugs.

Professor Collins did not deny this, but stated all the money he received was put back into research. This can hardly be considered a hands-off approach when it comes to being objective about the subject.

Dr Aseem Mulholtra, who is a strong anti-statin campaigner, has suggested that much of the work out of Oxford has left out strong evidence about the significant side effects in people who are prescribed statin drugs.

The bottom line of any company or profit-based organisation is to make money. I have absolutely no problems with this whatsoever, as long as all of its practices are moral and ethical and do not cause any harm to the people using or consuming their products.

I do, however, have significant concerns with so-called objective scientists who are very quick to criticise alternative approaches while strongly promoting their own views without disclosing the full details behind their own financial interests in the product or research they are promoting.

I am reminded of the very important Biblical quote, "do not criticise the speck in your neighbour's eye when there is a log in your own".

Published: Thursday, October 06, 2016


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