A rebuttal to anti-palm oil arguments

    (Updated )

    LETTER | It is obvious that the western edible oil industry has launched a concerted campaign against palm oil.

    It started with criticism against deforestation and environmental destruction to diminishing orangutan habitat, and now they are trying to associate palm oil with heart disease.

    These issues had been rebutted previously in my column in The Malaysian Insight and my recent open letter to UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jeremy Hunt. 

    The latest in the attack on palm oil is a Reuters article by Tom Miles, ‘WHO study likens palm oil lobbying to tobacco and alcohol industries’. 

    In his reporting, Miles had jumbled the points - palm oil with process food industry, trans fats, and food labelling.

    To those who are aware of the science of the subject, Miles’ piece was aimed to sensationalise just like the Rang-tan video released in Europe before Christmas last year. 

    Miles was referring to the article by Kandandale et al, ‘Palm oil industry and noncommunicable diseases’, published online on Jan 8, in WHO’s (World Health Organisation) bulletin.

    The title of the article was misleading. Little attempt was made to argue on how palm oil was linked to heart disease other than mere citation of published works.

    For those familiar with scientific arguments, and the depth and precision academic papers are suppose to be, the ten pages in the full text of the article were gibberish unworthy of attachment to the eminence of the WHO and the English institutions of higher learning they were known for.

    Nine out of ten pages made general discussion on commerce, trade, marketing, supply chain, lobbying by palm oil industry, and the environment. Only one page focused on health in general, although the beginning of the article hinted and made references to heart disease.

    Kandandale and colleagues seemed to have the notion that saturated fats and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol were bad and responsible for ischemic heart disease.

    The authors made reference to the study of Chen et al (2011) comparing mortality rate from palm oil consumption in developing countries and the developed countries.

    Using data from WHO, they pointed out that palm oil consumption in developing countries had negative impact on heart disease but not stroke. For developed countries, palm oil consumption did not impact both heart disease and stroke.

    The study by Chen and colleagues did not consider confounding factors such as other medications taken and diet. It was a poorly designed study. Furthermore it was an observational study and there should be no inference from the study.

    Kandandale and colleagues’ contention on the cause of heart disease was based on outdated theory. Starting from the 1950s, it was Ancel Keys who first hypothesised fats as the main causative factor after observing American diet.

    In 1960s Keys shifted the blame to saturated fats after observing European diet where there was less prevalence of heart disease even though high in vegetable fats.

    The scientific field shifted blame to low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in the 1970s, and then oxidised LDL in the 1980s. Homocysteine was made to be the culprit in the 1990s. It appears what perceived to be the main causative factor for heart disease changed every decade.

    Scientifically the cause of heart disease is unknown. To show cause and effect, there must have experimental studies. Secondary data and database study are not enough to draw conclusion.

    The authors should have based their studies on the latest scientific arguments on the causative factors of heart disease, and not rely on outdated WHO and FAO 2003 report linking palm oil consumption with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

    The paper by Demasi et al (2017),‘The cholesterol and calorie hypotheses are both dead – it is time to focus on the real culprit: insulin resistence’, published in The Pharmaceutical Journal of the British Royal Pharmaceutical Society, made compelling arguments and pointed to the many flaws in previous studies on lipid/cholesterol hypothesis of heart disease.

    Why did Kandandale and colleagues ignore Demasi’s study? In 1992, Rath and Pauling put forward their unified theory of cardiovascular disease, emphasising the body’s enzymatic degradation of the connective tissue or collagen matrix by the protease, plasmin.

    Rath and Pauling also proposed that the sticky APO protein transported by the LDL cholesterol, and lysine, were respectively endogenous and exogenous inhibitors of plasmin-induced proteolysis. Why did Kandandale and WHO ignore these studies?

    Wong (yours truly), Mohamed, and Niedzweicki, (2016), ‘Atherosclerosis and the cholesterol theory: a reappraisal’, built on the work of Rath and Pauling.

    Another study of ours in 2015, ‘The effect of multiple micronutrients supplementation on quality of life in patients with symptomatic heart failure secondary to ischemic heart disease: a prospective case series clinical study’, showed positive results even though patients were told to consume coconut oil and palm oil daily. Why were our studies ignored?

    It is enough to rebut the assertions of Kandandale and colleagues with arguments based on science. There is no necessity to argue on their points on trans fats because it is a different issue. Trans fats are not just produced from palm oil, but also from other types of vegetable oil from temperate countries.

    There is also no need to argue here that palm oil is more superior to the other vegetable oils from temperate countries that are produced mostly from genetically engineered crops. It is to their peril to campaign against palm oil.

    The writer is a researcher in heart disease at the Dr Rath Research Institute, Society of Natural Health Malaysia president and a Patriot member.

    The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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