Eat Your Beans but Skip Reading Dr. Steven Gundry’s ”The Longevity Paradox”: Flaws and Fruits
Physicians, particularly prominent physicians in the public view, have a responsibility when giving advice on lifestyle and therapy to adhere to a high standard of research and accuracy.
One of those physicians, Steven Gundry, MD, created much controversy in 2017 with the hypothesis that lectins in plant foods were the source of many chronic illnesses as outlined in his book, The Plant Paradox. Dr. Gundry references his “published” research and although a search on Pubmed reveals that his last peer reviewed full paper was on aortic surgery published in 2004. He has prepared an abstract of his results that is uniformly viewed in the scientific community as incomplete data not subject to the scrutiny of peer review. It also contains the unfortunate typo “Pant Paradox” in place of Plant Paradox.
Although The Plant Paradox spent weeks on the New York Times bestsellers list, it was not met without criticism. T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. and Thomas Campbell, MD, authors of The China Study, identified serious flaws in the references used to support Gundry’s claims. Their concluding statement was “We can only hope that this newly invented fad, based on such unethical and self-serving behavior, will pass quickly”.
David Katz, MD, founder of the True Health Initiative, also questioned Gundry’s work. Dr. Katz concluded that “So, do you need to fear lectins now? Dr. Gundry, who reportedly will be happy to sell you supplements to replace the nutrients present in the foods he is telling you not to eat, says: yes. I say: hold your breath, and count to a thousand while contemplating the theoretical toxicities of oxygen. Long before you finish, the truth will likely come to you in a gasp”.
Michael Greger, MD evaluated the book in a video titled “Dr. Gundry’s The Plant Paradox is Wrong”.
Recently, Stephan Guyanet Ph.D. published a detailed review of the book and gave it a grade of scientific accuracy of only 26% on a scale of 1–100, suggesting it is more fiction than fact.
I had the opportunity to both write about the book, identifying groundless claims, and to debate Dr. Gundry on national TV. I wrote that “If this were a joke it would be a bad one. As a best-selling book praised by people who reach millions and millions of loyal followers, it is dangerous and akin to pointing out the risks of oxygen which is known to have the potential to damage tissues.”
The Longevity Paradox: 3 Major Flaws
I approach most new ideas with an open mind but also carry the credo “be open minded but not so open that your brains fall out”.
With that in mind, I was looking forward to some improvements in Dr. Gundry’s new tome. In fact, beans and other legumes seem to have been resurrected on page 229 as long as pressure cooked or from Eden Foods, a Michigan-based company I love. Beyond that, is it more of a Poopadox?
I will leave it to Dr. Guyanet and others to evaluate every reference in the book, but I was sincerely hoping that Dr. Gundry had upgraded his shoddy attempt to support his views with the many erroneous references in his Plant book. The new book is not much better. Without casting stones unnecessarily, most medical doctors attempting to write serious books follow a system of references called the APA style guide and quote actual scientific studies in that format. For reasons that can only be attributed to laziness, Dr. Gundry lists many trade websites from Science Daily, Medical News Today, Bloomberg’s, and Science Magazine that are used for Tweets but not for serious science writing. In Chapter 2, for example, Protect and Defend, Science Daily is listed as a reference 6 times, USA Today once, and Joseph Mercola once. Furthermore, the URL’s are listed in a print book making verification onerous. In a technique also used by Gary Taubes in the past, Dr. Gundry will list an entire book as a reference with no page number, again making it nearly impossible to verify the claim. He does this in Chapter 1, Ancient Genes Control Your Fate, reference 19.
Are the statements in the book accurately referenced or are there more shenanigans like in The Plant Paradox? Turn to Chapter One, reference. Dr. Gundry indicates that “it was those holobiomes and their genes that were making us age so quickly, not our human genes” referring to the trillions of bacteria and genes in the colon, skin, mouth and other sites. Is reference 1 about the microbiome, genes, or other flora that live in or on us? Not at all. It is an analysis from the database of nurses and physicians followed by the Harvard School of Public Health relating habits like eating potato chips, poor sleep, and lack of exercise to long-term weight gain. No measurement of the microbiome was performed. No measurements of genes were performed either and the reference fails to support the statement in the book. Indeed, eating fruit was associate with maintenance of a more ideal body weight, a point to consider below. Bad form Dr. Gundry.
One more reference early in the book might make you wonder about the authenticity of the research in The Longevity Paradox. In Chapter 1, the book indicates that “as a 2016 study on the impact of diet on longevity concluded, “nutrient uptake depends on your microbiome” and indicates it is supported by reference 5. This seems a rather reasonable statement and the word “your” suggests the study was about human physiology. Except the study was not in humans and did not conclude that with that statement. The study was performed in nematodes, or worms, 1 mm in length, that are used for basic science experiments. A rather big leap of faith to “your microbiome”. The conclusion actually stated the following “Our study shows that the longevity difference when feeding B. subtilis to C. elegans instead of E. coli is not a mere consequence of one diet being more nutritious than the other, but rather due to one diet containing factors that are detrimental to the worm. We also showed that signaling pathways that affect longevity can have more or less of an impact depending on the diet worms are fed. Our study illustrates the importance that the microbiome can have on influencing life expectancy.” Not your life expectancy, but that of worms. It is not OK to be in the “ballpark” when writing books advising the public on diet and lifestyle without indicating that the data might need to be confirmed humans. Again, shoddy, if not shitty, research again.
As a final note, I challenged Dr. Gundry to his face about the errors that abounded in The Plant Paradox and he responded that a Harvard student was paid to do it and had made errors. He never released a corrected version of that book and he has learned nothing in the process.
Shame, shame Dr. Gundry.
2) A Theory of Heart Disease Without Any References
On pages 97–101, Dr. Gundry provides a theory of atherosclerosis that he provides to support the central role of avoiding lectins for health, the thesis of his The Plant Paradox. He provides ideas about molecules called Neu5Gc and Neu5Ac and how the differences amongst species. As humans do not make Neu5Gc, or so he asserts, eating lectins, and particularly grain lectins, bind to our tissues which “lays the groundwork for heart and autoimmune diseases in spades”. How many references to scientific studies are provided in these 5 pages to support this novel and bold assertion? Zero! I was intrigued enough to do my own literature search and can confirm zero exist. This is another example of hypothesis or fiction presented as an established fact because Dr. Gundry has a white beard like Santa and a medical degree. Shame, shame.
3) Fruit, the Evil Food Since the Garden of Eden
In chapter 8, The Longevity Paradox Foods, Dr. Gundry provides a section on “Gut-destroying Bad Bug Favorites”. He focuses on sugars, including the sugar in fruit, as the main issue. His claim is that “fruits, sweet treats, and real of fake sugars…are a driving factor of the obesity epidemic”, seemingly equating an apple and a Milky Way bar (page 207). He advised avoiding grapes, mangoes, ripe bananas, lychees, apples, pineapple, and pears, listing the grams of sugar in each as if the sugar added to an energy drink had the same influence on the body as an apple. This is another section devoid of medical references.
However, is there science to support eating fruit of all kinds? The recent Global Burden of Disease Study identified inadequate fruit intake as the third most powerful factor in 11 millions deaths annually worldwide due to dietary factors. The fact that fruit was found to be protective against the development of diabetes mellitus type 2 in a 7 year study of over 500,000 participants was not referenced. The data that increased intake of fruit is associated with less erectile dysfunction in young men was not acknowledged. Once again, claims are made, references are bogus or omitted, and Dr. Gundry fails to deliver the punch. Fruit punch. Shame, shame.
While there are aspects of the book that are admirable, like warnings about saturated fat and meat intake, The Longevity Paradox provides no new insights that are worthy of consideration. It appears as a vehicle to induce the reader to buy supplements and branded olive oil that Dr. Gundry sells conveniently matched to the books premise. He tried no harder in this book than in The Plant Paradox to base his hypotheses in science studies properly referenced.
My recommendation, borrow my copy of The Longevity Paradox and spend your money on grapes and apples.