Protein will kill you

Posted by on Mar 5, 2014 in Blog, Food, News | 5 comments

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Why did the chicken cross the road?

I will give you $1 billion (in cash, not bitcoins) if you can answer correctly. I promise.

So now you have a few choices. You can choose to make something up and hope I am a very honest billionaire (due to the mega success of the Cereal Killers movie of course) who shares your very precise view of the world about why chickens cross roads. Alternatively, you could try gathering a large number of chickens and observe them crossing a road, draw a conclusion from that and construct what you believe to be a “correct” answer accordingly.

Unfortunately this raises all kinds of additional questions:

  • How many chickens would it take to make the answer “correct”?
  • How many roads should they cross?
  • Where are the roads?
  • How old are the chickens?
  • Was it raining?
  • Were they free range chickens?
  • Are you sure no turkeys sneaked in there?

Now you can see we have a conundrum. The answer you draw from your observation process – however well constructed – and what I believe will most certainly be 2 very different things. Even if I took all your notes and carefully recreated your study there is a high probability that I may conclude something entirely different.

Science can be a bit like this.

Today’s global “Protein will kill you” headlines are derived from an observational study on a reasonably large group of people by a very credible research facility in the U.S. The focus was on cancer so these middle aged folks were checked for rates of cancer over a long period of time. They were asked questions about what they ate and from this it would have  been established if their protein from plant or animal sources. What the study did not appear to do was distinguish between a Big Mac, a hot dog and a piece of quality meat. All meat is equal.

Anyway, let’s put the meat to one side for a moment and get back to our chicken conundrum.

Do you think observing (from a distance) 6,381 chickens crossing the road through a pair of binoculars all at once might provide an accurate answer to our billion dollar question? Think carefully, because that’s how many people the scientists observed for the study from which the world’s media today concluded that protein may kill you in middle age.

Tell you what, I’ll take your 6,381 and I’ll raise you 448,568.


Because that’s how many people another bunch of scientists in Europe studied in which “all-cause mortality remained significant only for processed meat.”

In the stampede for a good headline, the media has conveniently forgotten that higher protein (irrespective of source) appears to have been protective after the age of 65 in this group.

The full title of the study – Low Protein Intake Is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population - reveals as much.

My own observation is nothing to do with medicine really. What I see here is a small, weak scientific study making concurrent global headlines. Did the Sydney Moring Herald call the Guardian in the UK and were those guys out partying with the journos from Ireland’s Irish Independent and the folks at the Examiner? Just how did they all come to know about a very small study from the U.S – on the very same day and why are they all publishing very similar headlines?

Scientists neither understand nor practice the dark arts of PR and making global headlines. Today, somebody who understands these issues very well has successfully taken a very small study and made it a very big story.

Somewhere there is a chicken crossing the road with a very clear agenda here. I cannot say with 100% accuracy what that agenda might be – but i could hazard a guess.

If I am correct, something tells me the owner of that agenda could well afford to pay me $1 billion.



  1. Hey Donal
    I’m a GP in drumquin, completing MSc in nutritional medicine
    I’m LCHF….past 7 years
    I tell anyone who will listen…..DONTEATSUGAR, and dontfearfat
    Look me up next time you’re in NI

  2. Love it!
    Perfectly put.

  3. A fairly important acknowledgement was made in the paper stating,

    “V.D.L. has equity interest in L-Nutra, a company that develops medical food.”

    L-Nutra specialises in plant-based nutritional products.

  4. Thanks to you and Dr. Noakes for your work. I am grateful for the help it has afforded me because I come from a family with severe mental diseases and believe with all my heart the main problem is organic and working with a higher fat diet, banishing sugar and refined carbs may provide real relief and maybe begin healing. Do you have any thoughts on this or any work in progress regarding this?

    • I think you will see more and more research into this area Sue – with Prof Noakes getting right behind it!

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