WHO Bulletin anti-palm oil article misleading, confusing and biased ― Wong Ang Peng

FEBRUARY 2 ― Putrajaya’s demand (as reported on February 1, 2019) for an article published in WHO Bulletin on January 8, 2019 to be retracted is long, but necessary, in countering external anti-palm oil campaign, but miserably short in what our scientists and palm oil researchers should do. Making ministerial statements, deferral of Asean-EU partnership, and writing to the head of states of EU countries are necessary. We have to also fight science with science. Our own experts and researchers in palm oil seem to have lost their tongue to speak and their pen to write.

Serious damage has been done by the Reuters article on January 9, 2019 by Tom Miles, “WHO study likens palm oil lobbying to tobacco and alcohol industries”. Under protest and criticisms, the article headline has changed to, “Study in WHO journal likens palm oil lobbying to tobacco and alcohol industries”. The original headline gave the impression that it was WHO that authored the article, which was not. Reuters and its editor have committed a shameful mistake.

The little known WHO Bulletin article in question, “The palm oil industry and noncommunicable diseases” authored by Kadandale, Marten and Smith, was notoriously and intentionally blasted out by Reuter to sensationalise the issue against palm oil and to give a boost to the current Western anti-palm oil campaign. In politics and big business, where lobbying is a norm, writing and publishing for sale is not uncommon.

The article by Kadandale et al regarding the palm oil industry was misleading, confusing, and not to the point concerning palm oil and noncommunicable diseases. The authors made a poor attempt to link palm oil to heart disease. The followings are more specific criticisms on the said article:

1. The title of the article was misleading. Little attempt was made to argue on how palm oil was linked to heart disease other than mere citation of published works.

2. The full text of the article had ten pages. Nine out of ten made general discussion on commerce, trade, marketing, supply chain, lobbying by palm oil industry, and the environment. Only one page focused on health in general, although at the beginning the article hinted and made references to heart disease.

3. Kadandale et al seemed to harbour the notion that saturated fats and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol were bad, and responsible for ischemic heart disease. Such thinking is not current, but stagnated in the era of the 1980s.

4. The authors made reference to the study of Chen et al (2011) that compared mortality rate from palm oil consumption in developing countries and the developed countries. Using data from WHO they pointed out that palm oil consumption in developing countries had negative impact on heart disease but not stroke. For developed countries, palm oil consumption did not impact both heart disease and stroke. Chen et al did not consider confounding factors such as other medications taken and diet. The study was poorly designed. Furthermore it was an observational study and there should be no inference from the study.

5. Kadandale et al blinkered themselves to the latest scientific arguments on the lipid-cholesterol hypothesis of heart disease. There are volumes of scientific reports on the subject based on alternative and parallel hypotheses, and with good refutation on the prevailing lipid-cholesterol theory of heart disease. Not citing these current studies and counter arguments means Kadandale et al have been bias, selective in their citations, and academically dishonest.

6. The authors based their study on outdated WHO and FAO 2003 report linking palm oil consumption with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The mid 1990s was the culmination period where saturated fat and LDL cholesterol were believed to be the main causal factor for heart disease. Such thinking was debunked in the first decade of the 21st Century.

7. The paper by Demasi et al (2017),”The cholesterol and calorie hypotheses are both dead ― it is time to focus on the real culprit: insulin resistance”, published in The Pharmaceutical Journal of the British Royal Pharmaceutical Society, made compelling arguments and pointed to the many flaws in previous studies on lipid/cholesterol hypothesis of heart disease.

8. In 1992, Rath and Pauling put forward their unified theory of cardiovascular disease, and showed that cholesterol was not the cause of heart disease, but a result of weaken arteries. Their unified theory emphasised the body’s enzymatic degradation of the connective tissue or collagen matrix by the protease, plasmin. Rath and Pauling also proposed that the sticky apo protein transported by the LDL cholesterol, and lysine, were respectively endogenous and exogenous inhibitors of plasmin-induced proteolysis. Rath and Pauling’s theory was corroborated by Yoshinori Ohsumi who in 2016 won the Nobel Prize for his discovey of mechanisms for autophagy, the process for degrading and recycling of cellular components. Why did Kadandale et al ignore all these studies?

9. Wong (yours truly), Mohamed, and Niedzweicki, (2016), “Atherosclerosis and the cholesterol theory: a reappraisal”, built on the work of Rath and Pauling. Another study of ours in 2015, “The effect of multiple micronutrients supplementation on quality of life in patients with symptomatic heart failure secondary to ischemic heart disease: a prospective case series clinical study”, showed positive results even though patients were told to consume coconut oil and palm oil daily. Why were our studies ignored? 

The WHO is correct in its decision not to retract the article by Kadandale et al. Only a fraud and falsification of data would necessitate a retraction. However, the article was off point, bias, confusing, and has soiled the image of WHO.

* Capt Dr Wong Ang Peng (Rtd) is a researcher in heart disease at the Dr Rath Research institute, the president of the Society of Natural Health Malaysia and a member of the National Patriot Association (Patriot).

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.