It’s been about 10 days since the 6K word-whopper went up: Iron, Food Enrichment and The Theory of Everything. So far very well received—as an hypothesis to investigate—by various communities. We were purposely diet agnostic in that post for, we consider the hypothesis also unifying in terms of at least partly explaining why vastly different diets provide benefits to diverse groups of people. For instance, myriad diets an LCer or Paleo would find unacceptable within the confines of their paradigms are nonetheless healthful; in many cases, more healthful—if longevity is the gold standard (see: The Blue Zones).
I think we’re back to square one: Eat Real Food and that may even include various grains…though primarily in a fresh, whole-grain way, so as to derive important nutrients from the bran and germ (e.g., manganese and copper, both critical in the regulation of iron absorption and storage regulation).
…All just food for chewing and thought.
And also: debunking. See, I’ve left that post at the top for 10 days now, refraining from blogging other indulgences. I think it’s important enough to stay there in order to hopefully get better fleshed out. So far, the only attempts at any debunking have been from readers in comments. One of the more interesting shots invoked Denise Minger and Ned Koch, specifically with respect to their China Study debunking and the role of wheat. Hit that link to see how it worked out.
Dr. Barry Sears, to his credit, gave it a shot on Twitter.
The countries w/ the greatest diabetes problems in numbers of diabetics are China & India & in percentages of diabetics it’s Saudi Arabia. The high iron hypothesis breaks down w/in those countries.
OK, so he’s claiming that he’s found two specific examples that would falsify the hypothesis as any sort of unifying explanation for all purported “paradoxes.” The problem is, we’d already looked at those (and everything else we could think of).
So, let’s run it down.
- India has mandatory fortification with iron (source). Recall that in the very opening of our post, we indicated that the U.S., Canada and U.K. are the only developed nations to enrich via State mandate. But various form of enrichment are prolific throughout the underdeveloped and developing world, both by State mandate and importation of enriched products.
- China has very high iron in wheat (see Mineral element concentrations in grains of Chinese wheat cultivars).
- China also has severe iron contamination in equipment made of iron and used for milling (see Investigation of the wear failure mechanism of a flour milling roller).
- China has iron dust storms from Gobi Desert that bloom ocean life (see Iron Fertilization in the Ocean and the possible Effects on Climate).
- Cast iron woks, ubiquitous in China, significantly increase iron content of food (see Wikipedia: “An American Dietetic Association study found that cast iron cookware can leach significant amounts of dietary iron into food. The amounts of iron absorbed varied greatly depending on the food, its acidity, its water content, how long it was cooked, and how old the cookware is. The iron in spaghetti sauce increased 2,109 percent (from 0.35 mg/100g to 7.38 mg/100g), while other foods increased less dramatically; for example, the iron in cornbread increased 28 percent, from 0.67 to 0.86 mg/100g.”)
- Saudi Arabia also has mandatory fortification with iron (source).
Not exhaustive, but certainly China, India, and Saudi Arabia all generally meet the parameters of our hypothesis: that iron—either by enrichment, environmental factors, or culinary practices—is an associated variable.
Of course, what makes the hypothesis stronger and stronger is if the variable shows up everywhere and nobody can find an exception. Moreover, while there are lots of variables that would show up in every observed case, what makes iron a serious contender for serious study is that its ill effects on heath are very well established; whereas, something like, say, sodium content, or carbohydrate content, are not.
In other words, iron is a really big fish, and if we find him swimming in all troubled waters, it’s probably got to be a big deal. And keep in mind: this is now expanding beyond enrichment, high iron content from natural foods, and an ignorance toward traditional food pairings where iron mitigating foods are consumed along with high iron foods.
…Alright, I’m sure that Dr. Sears did not take a lot of time to make a debunking attempt but we extend our thanks anyway as we put out the call for all comers. Take it on. Debunk it. All it takes is one solid population where iron can reasonably be excluded as a factor of any rational significance.
And I will point out that failing to do so establishes nothing beyond increased confidence that the hypothesis is serious, sound so far as we know, and worthy of serious study. As we understand: the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Or, your keys did not disappear, no matter a complete absence of any information as to their whereabouts.
…As a final thought, I learned something yesterday, or at least became more aware. Take the paleo narrative on grains. You know, no important intake before about 10-14,000 years ago: so cross, wooden stake, garlic. But then we find that’s not true, as even Neanderthal show signs of grain consumption. But the far bigger issue is how grains were consumed. Traditionally, they were likely whole, stone ground, and eaten relatively fresh. Later traditional methods involved fermentation, either by yeast, or yeast and lactobacilli (for traditional sourdough).
Why fresh? Ah, because when you grind in the bran and germ, it starts the spoilage process and will eventually taste “off,” then rancid. Modern technology found a way around that, stripping off those “offending” elements (the ones with all the nutrition), and all in order to achieve profitability through economies of scale. In other words, they could do milling runs far exceeding demand, thereby building enormous inventory that had a long shelf life.
Economics meets biology.