Iron Deficiency Does Not Cause People To Become Vegans
    By Hank Campbell | March 6th 2014 03:29 PM | 9 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0®.

    A wise man once said Darwin had the greatest idea anyone ever had. Others may prefer Newton or Archimedes...

    View Hank's Profile
    Statisticians have a rule of thumb for calibrating claims made in humanities and science papers alike. Andrew Gelman, for example, talks about statistical significance filter - "If an estimate is statistically significant, it’s probably an overestimate."

    A good thing to remember when you read weak observational studies, psychology surveys and, in modern times, a shocking number of epidemiology papers.

    For health, you can use a different rule of thumb: Does Joe Mercola sell it?

    If he does, it is probably suspect.

    Mercola is a famous homeopath, alt-medicine guru, anti-GMO, pro-organic and anti-vaccine businessman who turned his beliefs into a gigantic enterprise. So he is a great quack but also a great capitalist. If I see something that sounds like it has a grain of truth but has blown into being a conspiracy tale or another feel-good fallacy about nature, I search his site. 

    My Mercola Rule Of Thumb: "If his curves fit, it ain't legit." To-date, I am 100 percent successful in comparing suspect claims to endorsements on his site.

    Image link: Authority Nutrition.

    But statisticians would chuckle at me too, and rightly note that my creating curves and implying causation is not actually how things work either. And they are right, though they would also realize that when I show correlation and causation between the riots in Kiev and the price of steel, I am just having a laugh at a guy selling books claiming that a gluten-free diet will prevent Alzheimer's Disease.

    In an article on diabetes, Dr. James Watson, he of the famous DNA double helix, said antioxidants were more of a problem than oxidants. Antioxidants are, of course, a giant money-making fad so Watson claiming a lack of oxidants rather than an excess was going to get noticed.(1)

    I don't think he is onto anything, it's a fine idea but there's nothing outside correlation to back it up, I just knew it would lead to a strange comment or two from people who feel like their world view has been violated by noting that antioxidants aren't magic.

    And it got one. "Hard to believe, when 93% of diabetics have free iron in their body," a commenter wrote. Anonymous commenters often fall into two camps; they have a genuine interest or it violates their world view and they are jumping on it to tell science how wrong it is.  This was clearly in that second group, you could almost envision him going 'How do you explain that? Huh? HUH?'

    As I replied over there, vegans and pregnant women often have iron deficiencies. If all that matters is two curves going the same way, like free iron and diabetes, then iron deficiency causes pregnancy and turns people into vegans. That's the problem with putting advocacy first.

    Just like you can claim antioxidants will prevent diabetes using bad curves, you can make suspect claims about anything. In this chart, I can rightly show that iron deficiency causes women to become vegetarians. I could also show that becoming a Vegetarian Times subscriber leads to iron deficiency in women and the chart would look even more ridiculous if I used vegan women, since only 10 perfect of women with a normal diet have low iron while 50 percent of vegan women do. Statistics data from and Vegetarian Times

    A lot of diabetics have anemia rather than too much iron, because kidney damage sometimes goes along with diabetes, and the kidneys produce the erythropoietin hormone that regulates red blood cell production. The solution is to eat a well-balanced diet that contains iron. To turn around and claim that therefore the iron causes the diabetes is getting things all backwards.

    Hemochromatosis is, of course, real, and when a prolonged overload of iron occurs, it can damage organs. The damage to the pancreas and the liver could potentially lead to diabetes, it is true, but nowhere is it reasonable to claim made that antioxidants change genetics. Hemochromatosis is a single-gene disease, the most common one out there. Any claims that antioxidants are a replacement for phlebotomy should be viewed with alarm.

    What about the Mercola Rule of Thumb? Sure enough, he is advocating this 'iron causes diabetes' stuff and even goes so far as to claim that if his father had lower levels of iron, he never would have gotten diabetes. He seems shocked that his goofy pseudomedicine did not work, lamenting that his father "did not respond even to my dietary program" - as if that surprises anyone outside fellow homeopaths and anti-vaccine conspirators.

    Of course, we can never know what would have happened in his magical alternative universe so it is a safe claim for Mercola to make. Much safer than his snake oil pronouncements, like that his Living Fuel Rx cured diabetes, along with cancer and everything else. 

    That was only one of the product claims that got him a warning letter from the FDA.


    (1) The press release was from Cold Spring Harbor, so apparently they un-suspended him (and even removed their press releases saying they ever did - that link is from the Wayback Machine, As an older scientist, he is the opposite of the modern, careful progressive in biology, he is an intellectual libertarian who wants to go where the data and his instincts take him - even if it enrages the public. So he has said he won't hire fat people, that if you are pro-abortion/choice you should be okay with eugenics and - what got him suspended - that there may be biological reasons why black people are less intelligent and that he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really.”

    They seem to love him again now that the racism hubbub has died down - a whole lab is named after the man, after all. They also tend to be loyal. They also supported Charles Davenport's work on race and eugenics until 1963 also, when that finally became too taboo.


    "If an estimate is statistically significant, it’s probably an overestimate."

    Hank, I had to laugh when you later included yourself in the above quote...

    ...when you guesstimated about 100% accuracy in your Mercola farcical 'study'.

    I've been using natural processes for years with great success. Why don't you wise up

    and read the AMA's assessment of the America medical system? It's the

    3rd leading cause of DEATH ya know? I know you can spell IATROGENIC right?

    Oh yes...and what ranking does the WHO give to our medical folks? HMMM? 45th place.

    BUt...YOU KNEW THESE STATS, RIGHT? Cause you are such a SMART GUY...uh huh....

    Things are atrocious, uh 'friend'...and I think you are one of those

    who doesn't understand the downside of medical science. Rather, some seem blind.

    I am all for a hybrid system of using both natural and mainstream practices, as needed.

    The mainstream part? for moi? Just twice in 10 that to your 'healthy' friends.

    Personally, I think some people are a blight to science. No Hank, I am not talking about me...

    I intentionally included myself - and said that it was the same statistical flaw.  And joked about it twice. Most people get that but you seem to have missed it in your zeal to proclaim your devout worship of your cargo cult despite any evidence. 

    You spend your whole comment telling science and evidence-based medicine how flawed and stupid it is, then say I am the one against science. If you dislike science so much, why do you yearn to have it legitimize your magic?
    Perhaps I did skim read your article...and that is unfair...however, I notice your
    evangelistic scientism is YOUR trademark...and I admit intolerance of such one-sided views, especially concerning Mercola, whom many non-mainstream intellectuals favor...albeit, it's on the other side of the mainstream fence. I consider that there are neural situations contributing to our respective views...which branches quickly into Relativsim. I write about such stuff myself. We are different in our views for sure. I consider that I know more about certain sciences than you do. Science can produce Pedants, ya know? I am also confident that you have expertise that exceeds mine in several areas. Perhaps the Polymath is the most indicative approach,eh? Do you think say, Einstein, or Gandhi...would agree with your
    strident views? IMO, I think not. Wheras Randi would ...oh yeah, FOR SURE!
    Certain minds are like-minded...some are not. We don't need to call each other cretins. Anyone reading this can google AMA American Medical Association Death Rate Iatrogenic and then read the stats for themselves...produced by a leading medical watchdog. You do like to read stats, Don't You? Such info has been available for years...yawn...while you do nothing but bark at ghosts. By the way, I enjoy
    science and am not disliking it as you say. Just read know what I mean. Science Creates and Destroys...say! Just like Shiva! :LOL

    Say, does that mean Life's a Bitch and then You Die? Or is there another attitude?

    Have a nice day.


    "and I admit intolerance of such one-sided views, especially concerning Mercola, whom many non-mainstream intellectuals favor"

    No scientific or medical intellectuals favor Mercola. Maybe intellectuals in literature or psychology or political science. That should tell you something. If I sold a product that you can plug into your outlet and I claimed that it will cut your electricity costs by 40%, and had the support of several English professors, but was condemned by physicists and electrical engineers as a scammer, would I still have credibility to you because English professors are "intellectuals"? Unfortunately, the public is very gullible and I'm sure I could easily scam the public with such a device in spite of the fact that knowledgeable people outed me as a scammer.

    Hank, since you have no way to contact you directly, I figured I'd post here to point out that the Daily Telegraph mentioned one of your articles: "Inevitably, in the US, a gluten-free backlash is already under way. “Coeliac: the Trendy Disease for Rich, White People”, is a typical recent headline in the popular blog, Science 2.0."

    Uh oh, I know General Mills and others are not going to be happy if more stories like that come out. They have products they can charge 240% more for that currently 1 in 100 need but 1 in 20 are buying. That's a double digit corporate revenue goldmine.

    Thanks for letting me know!
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    The Telegraph article that mentions your article also says that many gluten free products are higher in fat, sugar and calories than foods that contain gluten and that the higher yeast content and shorter fermentation process of many mass produced modern breads may be causing some people who are not coeliacs, to experience bloating from the 'unripe' bread and yeast and not from the gluten it contains. 

    Have people mentioned this before on your articles? I know many women here in Byron Bay who will only eat gluten free food and I have always thought it was just a fad for most of them. By limiting what they can eat to 'gluten free' they are able to refuse many foods that are offered to them in social situations and its easier for them to stay slim, unlike me.  However, I have then been surprised at how much these women eat when the catering is gluten free, which is often the case at many parties I go to, especially those held by the fashion industry. The gluten free pizza is awful and I'm sure I eat less than anyone at these parties, I really don't like most gluten free foods that are made from gluten free flour. In a gluten free world (which may not be that far off in Byron Bay) I would probably be rake thin!

    At the next gluten free party I attend I will take great delight in letting everyone know that apparently gluten free food tends to be higher in fat, sugar and calories and that old fashioned sour dough breads do not contain extra yeast and that their fermentation process is not cut short. No one will take much notice though, you have to be rake thin for anyone to take any notice of you in the fashion industry ;)
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    Have people mentioned this before on your articles?
    I've mentioned it in every article I have written on gluten-free foods but I am not surprised if believers ignored that. Gluten-free is a popular fad and demonizing wheat sells a lot of books these days. Very few people are buying a book and then conceding they were duped.
    Mark Twain — "It's easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled."