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A Randomized Controlled Study of Parachutes; For Real!


You could file this under “they (the most renowned medical journals) will publish anything.” But that would miss the point. (Note: this WAS published in the Christmas issue; an annual light-hearted look at health & medicine. Though studies in it ARE held to usual standards)

These researchers set out to upset the norm and they did.

The history: for over 20 years, medical journals & researchers have used the fact that there are no randomized clinical trials (RCTs) of this lifesaving device (the parachute) to justify not doing RCTs on a variety of (‘lifesaving;’ in their eyes) procedures and drugs.

But what these brilliant scientists set out to show is what happens when (1) scientists have preconceived notions of ‘truths’ and (2) results are taken out of context. Read the abstract HERE to see what I mean. Even a read of the full article, below it, doesn’t fully show what’s going on (not a minor point!).

So they got 2 groups of people together and randomized them; one group with parachute backpacks; one group with backpacks that looked & felt the same (the control) and had them jump from one of 2 planes! The results showed there was no statistically significant difference in injury rates and no one died! (Only one picture reveals the ‘how.’)

Interpretation:  (RESEARCHERS’ EDITORIAL HERE) My thoughts: (1) Preconceived truths & their limits: What we all accept as true that limits us. In medicine & health, this can be a procedure, a drug or the results of a test. For example, people use meds to control blood sugar levels in Type 2 Diabetes and think they are helping themselves. However, studies show that ‘well-controlled’ diabetics still go blind, lose toes and have kidney and heart problems at nearly the same rate as though who are not controlled! Our (and our doctor’s) preconceived notion that the drug and ‘normal’ test results it produces will make us healthy limits many people from being able to actually REVERSE their diabetes and actually get healthy. (This CAN happen in most people in as little as 10 days to 3 weeks. Get a basic intro to this and more in my upcoming Food Over Medicine Program or call me about private coaching.) This holds true of many things in medicine; from cardiac by-pass surgery to vaccines, from transplants to chemotherapy. I’m not saying that any of these things don’t work; just that our current paradigm makes it difficult for us (and our doctors and researchers) to ‘think outside the box’ & find better & healthier answers.

Interpretation: (2)Results taken out of context: Think; nearly every health headline you’ve ever seen. This is what causes confusion in medicine and especially in diet & nutrition. I went to Medscape.com (a site that summarizes current health research) and looked at the first nutrition article I found today: “Dairy Products Have a Mixed Effect on Mortality”   A closer look shows that this was data from the NHANES study which attempts to follow thousands of people longitudinally over a long period of time. Here’s the thing: numerous other studies of this same cohort have determined that most eat some version of the Standard American Diet (SAD) (high fat, high animal product) so the interpretation of this study likely only applies to people who eat the SAD diet. Numerous studies world-wide show that people on more plant-based diets with little or no dairy live longer. By taking this study out of context, we just add more confusion to our understanding of diet and lifestyle and how to live a good long healthy life.

So, where do you go from here? Learn to develop a discerning eye: What are the inherent limits of the study method & cohort (test subjects)? Are they looking at the big picture as well as the minute detail they’re trying to tease out? Does this apply to me or my family? If so, how? Don’t forget to ask who funded the study & what vested interest the researcher may have. Be aware that percentages are often  ‘relative’ instead of absolute: If a drug decreases the rate of heart attack from 1.0% to 0.5%, it can be called a 50% reduction! But the absolute reduction is only 0.5%.

Learn more about this and how to take better control of your health in my upcoming Food Over Medicine Program in March. Watch for upcoming announcements and details.

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