Research Review: Dr. Gundry and Soy

I have recently had my attention drawn to Dr. Gundry’s video on gaining energy. Now my issues with this video are fairly numerous, so I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice it to say that everything in it should be taken with a huge grain of salt. The video uses extremely emotive wording, frequent appeals to authority, and a dashing of jargon to appear legitimate. To pick out a few points from the first few seconds:

  • Energy from within” vs. “energy from without”. This one made me go “Huh?”. There is just no such thing as energy from “within” (unless you’re injecting ATP directly into your cells). All human energy sources ultimately come from food, being digested, entering the blood stream, being taken up by cells and oxidised. The only exception I can think of is when in times of starvation your body dissasembles itself using autophagy (that’s greek for self-eating), to provide energy to vital organs.

  • Appeals to authority, in the form of frequent descriptions of Dr Gundry’s heart surgery. Now I hope this doesn’t come across as an attack on Dr. Gundry, because he has certainly done some amazing work in the cardio realm, but just because he is a great surgeon does not make him any good at nutrition (or the scientific method, but I’ll get to that later). In fact, being so knowledgeable about surgery may have led to a form of the Dunning-Kruger effect, where he has a sense of mastery of the whole medical field. Of course, nobody has mastered the medical field, because we know less than 1% of what goes on in our own bodies, let alone what to do when something goes wrong.

  • Clean” biological energy. Now this isn’t complete nonsense, because some foods are a much “cleaner” source of energy than others. No, Dr. Gundry’s problem is that he seems to have it backwards - a teaspoon of sugar will be metabolized down to nothing but CO₂ and H₂O, two things which your body needs (well sure, the CO₂ is breathed out, but it plays an important role in telling your body when to breath out). A so-called “cleaner” food, such as spinach, which is definitely healthier for you in the long run, has a heap of other molecules. Many are vital for your wellbeing, but the fact remains that their metabolism is well… messy.

Anyway. His video was painful watching, so I though I’d skip the fluff and head straight to the meat - Dr. Gundry’s “groundbreaking” study. On finding it, I immediately questioned how much of a “landmark” study this was - it has only been cited by 2 other works in 5 years. Nevertheless, citations aren’t everything so I dived in for a quick review. Some issues quickly became apparent.

Sample Selection. Always an important topic, Dr. Gundry has simply used the last 200 patients to visit his clinic. People who visit his clinic are decidedly non-representative of the general public, so his results are weakened there already. People going to a wellbeing clinic are most probably going to be richer, unhealthier, and older than the average.

Lack of Controls. Dr Gundry’s research does have results, but they don’t say what he claims in his video. Sure, giving his patients a healthy diet and some supplements made them healthier, but there is no way to determine what it was that caused this health increase. I’ll again point out that Dr. Gundry is dealing with already unhealthy individuals, so putting them on a well balanced diet is almost always going to help. But what part of the diet helped? Did the supplements make any difference? It’s impossible to say from Gundry’s methodology. Perhaps if he ran a blind or preferably a double-blind study where some patients got variations on the diet he might make some progress in this area. Anyway, results say that eating a healthy diet makes you healthy!

Result Significance. This is always a fun one. The doctor claims a p-value of less than 0.01, but some serious statistic munging must have been done to achieve this. Looking at the numbers in his results, his error metrics are… High. Basically his paper is based on two values, the before and after numbers, which are 1.9 and 2.2, respectively. The errors, however, are 37% and 22%. This means that we don’t know if that before number is actually as high as 2.6, and the after number could be as low as 1.75. His diet could be making people worse - there’s no way to tell!

Summing up, in my everyday life I’m basically ignoring Dr. Gundry’s results. Sure eating lots of greens is good for you - everyone already knows that!

Tags: BiologyScience