Saturday, July 16, 2011

Finding the Real Killer

Salt War
What if you are a "public health authority" and you are passionate about helping people live longer and better.  You get used to the idea that your job means wielding a clumsy club - for example, you know some percentage of people will die every year from adverse reactions to vaccination, but you believe many more will be saved.  Therefore, you can live with the requirement that people can't send their kids to public schools unless they've been vaccinated.

If you are a parent however, the calculus comes out a bit differently.  Other parents can "protect" their kids if they feel the need to, but you may think that the risk of vaccination exceeds the risk of infection by, for example, measles, mumps or rubella.  You don't care about the odds - you just don't want to be the parent who loses a kid due to an un-needed vaccination, and you believe that for a healthy, well fed kid, most infectious diseases have a relatively low risk of mortality.

What's the point of describing this situation?  The point is to illustrate that the playing field looks differently depending on where you sit.  The link above describes the salt wars - the ongoing battle amongst health professionals and their critics about whether or not salt will make you sick.  Here's the short version of the answer:  if you don't have high blood pressure, salt will not make you sick.  If you have high blood pressure, cutting back on salt will help - but for most with high blood pressure, salt restriction only helps a little (if you want to cure your high blood pressure, try carb restriction - works very well for most folks, because most high blood pressure is a result of excess carb intake and hyper insulinemia.  Once your normalize your BP, you can enjoy your salty food with a clear conscience).

Why's that a big deal?  Because those passionate health professionals have done some interesting math.  If you reduce a population's salt intake enough, you can get an average reduction of that population's blood pressure equal to a percent, or maybe a little more.  If you make some assumptions and do some complicated math, you can predict that the aforementioned salt restriction will reduce heart attacks and strokes by some percent, thus saving lives.  Thus, the passionate health professionals are pushing for restrictive legislation to reduce salt intake (Say What?).

You may or many not have a problem with that course of action depending upon your sense of what the limits of government should be.  I have a significant problem with it, however, because it the government can dictate what you eat based on the flimsy science supporting the case for salt restriction, they can make you do anything they want to.  Nevermind the bizarre logic that allows them to take aim on salt but allow cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, selling gatorade like drinks as a health food, and driving in cars.

I mean if you want to save a bunch of lives, get rid of automobiles and don't let anyone make or sell booze, for crying out loud.

Of course, that's the point - they know they can't get away with taking your car to save your life because we'd all rather be dead than to lose our cars - or booze for that matter.  But they think they can bamboozle you with shady salt science and save some random folks from an untimely death.  At least they mean well.

Read the articles linked above.  Read this gem by Gary Taubes which examines the topic in even greater depth.  Consider that there's evidence that salt restriction may kill as many folks as it saves.

Then ask yourself:  What should the standard of scientific proof be before government may impinge upon your liberty "for your own good"?

I obviously do not think that standard has been met for salt.  Do you?

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