Dentists warned of nutrition quackery

2008 09 15 15 01 40 159 Quackery 70

SAN FRANCISCO - Dental workers are confused about nutrition, Warren Karp, D.M.D., Ph.D., said in a high-voltage presentation at the California Dental Association Fall Scientific Session here last week.

“There is so much misinformation even at health professional meetings.”

"There is so much misinformation even at health professional meetings," said Dr. Karp, a professor emeritus at the Medical College of Georgia, his voice rising as he spoke. "There's a lot of quackery at dental meetings. Quack! Quack! Quack!"

He cited the example of a recent dental meeting where another presenter advocated nutritional supplements. Few Americans are lacking key nutrients, he said. He threw open the door to the meeting room's emergency exit and pretended to scan the streets outside for undernourished Americans.

Rather we are overnourished, Dr. Karp said as he strode back down the central aisle of the room. We are scarfing too many calories, too much fat, too much salt, too much sugar, and too much cholesterol. "We weigh too much!" he shouted. "We don't move our butts around!"

So dental workers can best help their patients by encouraging them to cut back. "Less, less, less eat! More, more, more move!" But rather than lecturing patients, he suggested listening to them. "Ask them what they are concerned about. Whatever they say, you can scaffold your nutritional information around."

For example, if a patient is concerned about diabetes, recommend a "diabetes diet" -- which is the same as the American Heart Association diet and the Surgeon General's diet and is low in the nutrients Americans consume in excess.

If a patient asks about ginkgo biloba, tell them you'll help them prioritize. "Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize!" shouted Dr. Karp. He stood on a chair to show how high cutting fat should rank in comparison to taking a new supplement. "What are people dying of? Vitamin and antioxidant deficiencies? Or heart attack and stroke?"

Antioxidants aren't necessary because our bodies already make plenty of them, he argued. "There is no evidence people who eat antioxidants are any healthier. People who take massive amounts have an increased risk of heart disease."

Fish oil, he said, doesn't belong in eggs or pills, only in fish. And protein supplements -- which might help starving people in developing countries -- are wasted in ours.

Dr. Karp also took aim at organic food. "I like the psychosocial community aspects of organics, but I'm not spending extra for it," he said. "There's no nutritional difference between organic and inorganic."

Likewise, he argued, "free range" is meaningless. "I don't want to know about the physical activity of my chicken before I eat it."

Dr. Karp warned his audience to take a close look at the pseudoscience used to market some health food products. For example, some vitamin makers have shown that people taking their vitamins have higher levels of the vitamins in their blood, but not that the vitamins produced any health benefits.

He also warned the audience not to trust anecdotal experiences, including their own. For years, he said, he got a headache whenever he ate Chinese food. Others might have blamed monosodium glutamate, but Dr. Karp realized that he only went out for Chinese food when his mother-in-law was visiting.

So what can dental workers do to improve their own families' health? "The next time you see your husband eating a Whopper and fries, smack him in the head," he said.

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