Anne Glausser was the communications manager for the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University from Jan 2016-Feb 2017. Before taking on this role, she was a coordinating producer for Cleveland's NPR/PBS member station, ideastream. She got started in journalism at PRI’s Living on Earth, and has also worked in research at the Harvard School of Public Health. Anne got her master's degree from MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing.
Public outreach is a vital part of the mission of the Linus Pauling Institute. Please help us improve our efforts by taking this short online survey.
It should only take about 5-10 minutes to complete. As a way to say thank-you, we’ll be doing a drawing among survey participants for 2 $50 Amazon gift cards as well as 10 copies of the following Linus Pauling Institute publications: An Evidence-based Approach to Vitamins and Minerals: Health Benefits and Intake Recommendations and An Evidence-based Approach to Phytochemicals and Other Dietary Factors.
Nutrition has always been considered a “soft science”—a field rife with studies showing associations but no firm causation. Conclusive trials in humans are very difficult to do, and long-term studies assessing disease prevention are often cost prohibitive. In the past, the status quo was to do studies with laboratory animals to test whether a certain food or nutrient had an effect on cancer incidence or the hardening of arteries that can lead to heart disease or another such end point, but this approach lacked a critical element: the “why” was missing. “Something went in, something possibly resulted from it, but what happened in-between was largely a black box,” said Linus Pauling Institute Director and Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics Balz Frei, PhD. “What was lacking was mechanisms.”
Last week, many in the nutrition and medical fields let out a collective sigh. That’s because there is good quality nutrition research, from actual humans in randomized control trials, showing the importance of folic acid supplementation during pregnancy. Taking a multivitamin with 400 mcg of folic acid (the form of folate found in most supplements) can prevent birth defects associated with the brain and spinal cord. And organizations like the March of Dimes have done a good job getting the word out about folic acid to women of childbearing age. The FDA even just announced it would allow corn flour to be fortified with folic acid, in order to prevent birth defects among women who eat corn as a staple in their diet.
Forget smoking, sunburns, infections, and bad diet: two-thirds of cancers are due to “bad luck.” That was the takeaway—and subsequent media headlines—from an article published in Science last year by researchers at Johns Hopkins Unversity.
Fast forward several months and another study looking at the same question came out in Nature with the opposite conclusion: lifestyle and other external factors account for over 70% of most cancers.
Two big name journals. Two different conclusions. So which is right? What should be the new takeaway?