Homocysteine will be 'the new Cholesterol'?
SIRC's monitoring of trends in dietary fashions and taboos indicates that meat will be the next nutritional folk-devil. In recent years, fat-bashing and fears about cholesterol, while still popular, have been overtaken to some extent by carbo-phobia and anxiety about 'glycemic load'. While these problems will not go away, early warning signs show that the next food to be demonised will be animal protein, and worry about high homocysteine levels (or 'protein intoxication', as it is already being called) will be on a par with concern about cholesterol counts.
Scaremongering about homocysteine is likely to escalate rapidly now, following an article in the NY Times in which Jane Brody describes it (without a trace of irony) as the new 'rival' to cholesterol. The Brody seal of approval on a new health-fear tends to encourage other journalists to jump on the bandwagon, and it is clear that a number of interest-groups will be quick to seize this opportunity to promote their causes, not least the increasingly influential vegetarian lobby.
The scientists involved in studying homocysteine are already, according to Brody 'enjoying renewed respect' – a clear danger-signal, as they have been ignored for many years while the focus was on cholesterol, and will now fight hard to maintain and improve their new status. They are already starting to make wildly exaggerated claims, such as "studies now underway will prove that controlling homocysteine is the best way to deal with heart disease." As well as heart disease, homocysteine is now being 'linked' (the media-friendly term epidemiologists use when they can't actually prove any causal relationship) with virtually every other known ailment, from Alzheimer's to osteoporosis and strokes. All that seems certain at the moment is that elevated homocysteine is associated with ageing, as are (surprise, surprise) most of the diseases 'linked' to homocysteine – so all we are really being told is that old people tend to get ill and die, which is not exactly news.
As reducing consumption of animal protein is (so far) the only proposed dietary means of lowering homocysteine (vitamin B supplements are also advocated), vegetarian, green and other anti-meat campaigners will have a new and potentially very powerful weapon. These groups are clearly irritated by the current fashion for high-protein diets (product of carbo-phobia), and will do their best to make 'protein intoxication' the new health buzz-word. There is currently no evidence to show that lowering homocysteine will have any health benefits, but even the scientists who admit this are recommending that we should start cutting down on meat now, without waiting for the research results.
Neglected, publicity-hungry scientists, backed by powerful green/consumer interest-groups; journalists in search of a new health-scare; a convenient big industry to act as scapegoat. Now, where have we seen this scenario before?