Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Bitter Pill

Is Saturated Fat Good or Bad?

By Rosemary Stanton

Populist TV, blogs and publications have portrayed saturated fats as healthy rather than dietary villains, but this is an oversimplification as it’s not valid to judge our complex dietary intake by only one component.

Internet blogs, popular books and some TV chefs are propounding the idea that saturated fat is now “healthy”, asserting that the “experts got it wrong” and we wouldn’t be so fat and sick if we hadn’t shunned saturated fat. Popular papers push the idea with headlines such as “Butter is back,” “Bacon for breakfast” and “Vegetable oils are toxic”.

Those pushing these ideas claim that “studies” have proved them right. When pressed, most quote a review (not a study) by Chowdhury et al. which reported no significant differences for coronary disease with different levels of saturated fat.

Dodgy Tests and Dodgy Diagnoses

By Bruce Campbell

Lax regulation of complementary treatments is allowing alternative laboratories to peddle expensive and useless diagnostic tests.

An EEG Only Scratches the Surface of the Brain

By Marko Petrovic

Chiropractors claim that “functional neurology” can treat conditions ranging from epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease to autism and stroke, but the technology they use isn’t up to the task.

The Australian chiropractic community is being scrutinised more than ever before. Its private and public health funding has been questioned as this billion-dollar industry struggles to prove its effectiveness. Universities teaching chiropractic have also come under fire from lobbying groups that insist that pseudo­scientific “health” courses should be dropped.

In an effort to stem the bleeding, chiropractors in Australia are increasingly diversifying their services. Such attempts usually centre on techniques that appear complex on face value.

Is Chemmart’s myDNA Test Right for You?

By Ken Harvey

The promises of genetic tests and treatments may be outstripping the science.

When you enter a Chemmart pharmacy, it’s hard to miss the posters and brochures promoting its “revolutionary myDNA test”. The brochure states that it’s “personalised medicine” where “your DNA results … can help guide your future health and lifestyle choices”.

Advertising on both the Chemmart and myDNA websites claims that “70% of people who take the test have a finding that could affect current or future medications”.

What The Egg Industry Doesn’t Want You To Know

Credit: nito

Credit: nito

The health claims of the egg industry rely on a red herring and a half-truth.

The egg industry has fostered widespread belief that dietary cholesterol in egg yolks is harmless. Its proposition rests on a red herring and a half-truth. The red herring is a misplaced focus on elevated fasting levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol as the main harmful effect of dietary cholesterol. The half-truth is the slogan: “Eggs can be part of a healthy diet for healthy people”. Those at risk of heart attack or stroke should understand the issues.

The Red Herring

Smoke, Mirrors and Nanotechnology

By Andrew Stapleton

Alternative health practitioners are quick to offer a variety of untested therapies. Nanotechnology is yet another in the list.

The term “nanotechnology” conjures images of extremely tiny robots that are swallowed, treat people from the inside and then self-destruct into excretable components. Unfortunately, reality falls short of that expectation.

The Needles Are as Thin as the Evidence

By Marko Petrovic

Practitioners of dry-needling swear by it, yet there is no evidence it will relieve your muscular aches and pains.

With alternative medicine now coming to a university near you, and the Free Trade Agreement with China pledging to welcome and promote traditional Chinese medicine in Australia, you can expect to see many more promises online and elsewhere about the alleged benefits of alternative health practices.

Dry-needling is among them. Practitioners of dry-needling swear by it, yet it is not the miracle treatment for your muscular aches and pains.

Why People Believe Weird Things 101

By Mark Carter

A new university course is teaching students why normally sensible people believe weird things, and some of the tricks used by pseudoscientific practitioners.

More and more universities are offering courses on popular rather than scientifically valid subjects. Even top-rated establishments are prepared to offer questionable or pseudoscientific courses.

Does Chronic Fatigue Syndrome have a Neurological Origin?

By Leighton Barnden

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome may result from damage to a small but critical brain structure.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is distinguished by a persistent malaise and lethargy that physical or mental exertion exacerbates for a period of several days. Sufferers can identify a clear-cut beginning to their condition. In many, it follows a viral infection such as glandular fever. Sufferers also experience cognitive difficulties and, sometimes, autonomic disturbances such as dizziness on standing, gastrointestinal upsets, cardiovascular irregularities and immune system dysfunction.

Pseudoscience in Sport: If It’s Legal It Probably Doesn’t Work

By Marko Petrovic

Elite athletes are prime targets for emerging sham products that promise make-believe effects.

The realm of the professional sportsperson is awash with diverse ways to get ahead, legal or not. The immense pressure these people feel can make them take a wrong turn down the road to victory.

In March, two Collingwood players tested positive to clenbuterol, a drug on WADA and ASADA’s prohibited list. Clenbuterol promotes muscle growth and reduces body fat, which is clearly a prime example breaking the rules to get ahead.