Statistical inferences vs. biological realities

A 2019 UCLA study introduced a derivative of the epigenetic clock named GrimAge:

“DNAm GrimAge, a linear combination of chronological age, sex, and DNAm-based surrogate biomarkers for seven plasma proteins and smoking pack-years, outperforms all other DNAm-based biomarkers, on a variety of health-related metrics.

An age-adjusted version of DNAm GrimAge, which can be regarded as a new measure of epigenetic age acceleration (AgeAccelGrim), is associated with a host of age-related conditions, lifestyle factors, and clinical biomarkers. Using large scale validation data from three ethnic groups, we demonstrate that AgeAccelGrim stands out among pre-existing epigenetic clocks in terms of its predictive ability for time-to-death, time-to-coronary heart disease, time-to-cancer, its association with computed tomography data for fatty liver/excess fat, and early age at menopause.” “DNA methylation GrimAge strongly predicts lifespan and healthspan”

A miserable attempt at reporting the study’s findings included angles of superstition, fear-of-the-future, and suspicion-by-spurious-association:

“The research has already captured the attention of the life insurance industry. After all, a solid death date could mean real savings when it comes to pricing policies.

The hope is that if and when legitimate anti-aging drugs are developed, GrimAge could be used to test their effectiveness. In a world with functional anti-aging drugs, “doctors could test [your GrimAge number] and say, ‘You know what, you’re aging too quickly. Take this,'” Horvath said.” “A New Test Predicts When You’ll Die (Give or Take a Few Years)”

A detailed blog post from Josh Mitteldorf provided scientific coverage of the study:

“Methylation sites associated with smoking history predicted how long the person would live more accurately than the smoking history itself. Even stranger, the methylation marks most closely associated with smoking were found to be a powerful indication of future health even when the sample was confined to non-smokers.

The DNAm GrimAge clock was developed in two stages, a correlation of a correlation. Curiously, the indirect computation yields the better result.

Horvath’s finding that secondary methylation indicators are more accurate than the underlying primary indicator from which they were derived is provocative, and calls out for a new understanding.” “DNAm GrimAge—the Newest Methylation Clock”

When there are logical disconnects in findings like the above, it’s time to examine underlying premises. As noted in Group statistics don’t necessarily describe an individual, an assumption required by statistical analyses is that each measured item in the sample is interchangeable with the next.

This presumption is often false, producing individually inapplicable results. For example, Immune memory vs. immune adaptation included this description of the adaptive immune system:

“To be effective, highly specific immune response requires huge diversity of receptors and antibodies, which is achieved by somatic rearrangement of gene segments. Recombination results in millions of TCR [T cell receptor] and antibody variants able to recognize and neutralize millions of various antigens.”

Standard statistics of millions of T cell receptor and antibody variants won’t represent their individually unique properties. Individual differences are their purpose and benefit to us.

The GrimAge study’s overreach was most apparent in stratifying educational attainment to develop correlations. As mentioned in Does a societal mandate cause DNA methylation? such statistics are poor evidence of each individual’s biological realities.

Neither derivatives of group statistics, nor correlations of correlations, seem to be the techniques needed to understand biological causes of effects. Commentators on the GrimAge study mentioned but glossed over this point:

“It remains a mystery why exactly the epigenetic clocks work, and whether age-related changes in DNA methylation contribute to the cause of aging or are a result of it.”


Immune memory vs. immune adaptation

This 2019 Dutch/German/Romanian perspective aimed for a better understanding of immune systems:

“Based on molecular, immunological, and evolutionary arguments, we propose that innate immune memory is a primitive form of immune memory present in all living organisms, while adaptive immune memory is an advanced form of immune memory representing an evolutionary innovation in vertebrates.

Innate immune responses have the capacity to be trained and thereby exert a new type of immunological memory upon reinfection. The central feature of trained innate immune cells is the ability to mount a qualitatively and quantitatively different transcriptional response when challenged with microbes or danger signals. Evidence supports the convergence of multiple regulatory layers for mediating innate immune memory, including changes in chromatin organization, DNA methylation, and probably non-coding RNAs such as microRNAs and/or long non-coding RNAs.

Two properties of the adaptive immune response are mediated by two fundamentally different types of mechanisms:

  1. The higher magnitude and speed of the response is mediated by epigenetic programming.
  2. The specificity of the response is insured by gene recombination of TCR [T cell receptor] and BCR [B cell receptor] and clonal expansion of specific cell subpopulations upon antigen recognition.

To be effective, highly specific immune response requires huge diversity of receptors and antibodies, which is achieved by somatic rearrangement of gene segments. Recombination results in millions of TCR and antibody variants able to recognize and neutralize millions of various antigens.”

The paper included speculations such as the “Evidence supports..probably non-coding RNAs” quoted above, and the penultimate sentence:

“One can envision that vaccines that are capable of inducing both forms of immune memory at the same time would be more effective.”

100% factual evidence is preferred. The paper’s overall information can only be as accurate as the paper’s least accurate information.

The lead author coauthored A dietary supplement that trains the innate immune system and a study referenced in Eat your oats. “Innate and Adaptive Immune Memory: an Evolutionary Continuum in the Host’s Response to Pathogens” (not freely available)

A therapy to reverse cognitive decline

This 2018 human study presented the results of 100 patients’ personalized therapies for cognitive decline:

“The first examples of reversal of cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease and the pre-Alzheimer’s disease conditions MCI (Mild Cognitive Impairment) and SCI (Subjective Cognitive Impairment) have recently been published..showing sustained subjective and objective improvement in cognition, using a comprehensive, precision medicine approach that involves determining the potential contributors to the cognitive decline (e.g., activation of the innate immune system by pathogens or intestinal permeability, reduction in trophic or hormonal support, specific toxin exposure, or other contributors), using a computer-based algorithm to determine subtype and then addressing each contributor using a personalized, targeted, multi-factorial approach dubbed ReCODE for reversal of cognitive decline.

An obvious criticism of the initial studies is the small number of patients reported. Therefore, we report here 100 patients, treated by several different physicians, with documented improvement in cognition, in some cases with documentation of improvement in electrophysiology or imaging, as well.” “Reversal of Cognitive Decline: 100 Patients”

The lead author commented on Josh Mitteldorf’s informative post A cure for Alzheimer’s? Yes, a cure for Alzheimer’s!:

  1. “We have a paper in press, due to appear 10.22.18 (open access, JADP, I’ll send a copy as soon as available), showing 100 patients with documented improvement – some with MRI volumetrics improved, others with quantitative EEG improvements, others with evoked response improvements, and all with quantitative cognitive assessment improvement. Some are very striking – 12 point improvements in MoCA, for example – others less so, but all also have subjective improvement. Hopefully this will address some of the criticisms that we haven’t documented improvement in enough people.
  2. We were just turned down again for a randomized, controlled clinical trial, so on the one hand, we are told repeatedly that no one will believe that this approach works until we publish a randomized, controlled study, and on the other hand, we’ve been turned down (first in 2011/12, and now in 2018), with the complaint that we are trying to address more than one variable in the trial (as if AD is a single-variable disease!). Something of a catch-22. We are now resubmitting (unfortunately, the IRBs are not populated by functional medicine physicians, so they are used to seeing old-fashioned drug studies), and we’ll see what happens.
  3. I’ve been extending the studies to other neurodegenerative diseases, and it has been impressive how much of a programmatic response there seems to be in these “diseases.”
  4. I agree with you that there are many features in common with aging itself.
  5. You made a good point that APP is a dependence receptor, and in fact it functions as an integrating dependence receptor, responding to numerous inputs (Kurakin and Bredesen, 2015).
  6. In the book and the publications, we don’t claim it is a “cure” since we don’t have pathological evidence that the disease process is gone. What we claim is “reversal of cognitive decline” since that is what we document.
  7. As I mentioned in the book, AD is turning out to be a protective response to multiple insults, and this fits well with the finding that Abeta has an antimicrobial effect (Moir and Tanzi’s work). It is a network-downsizing, protective response, which is quite effective – some people live with the ongoing degenerative process for decades.
  8. We have seen several cases now in which a clinical trial of an anti-amyloid antibody made the person much worse in a time-dependent manner (each time there was an injection, the person would get much worse for 5-10 days, then begin to improve back toward where he/she was, but over time, marked decline occurred), and this makes sense for the idea that the amyloid is actually protecting against pathogens or toxins or some other insult.
  9. It is important to note that we’ve never claimed that all people get better – this is not what we’ve seen. People very late in the process, or who don’t follow the protocol, or who don’t address the various insults, do not improve. It is also turning out to be practitioner dependent – some are getting the vast majority of people to improve, others very few, so this is more like surgery than old-fashioned prescriptive medicine – you have to do a somewhat complicated therapeutic algorithm and get it right for best results.
  10. I’m very interested in what is needed to take the next step in people who have shown improvement but who started late in the course. For example, we have people now who have increased MoCA from 0 to 9 (or 0 to 3, etc.), with marked subjective improvement but plateauing at less than normal. These people had extensive synaptic and cellular loss prior to the program. So what do we need to raise the plateau? Stem cells? Intranasal trophic support? Something else?
  11. I haven’t yet seen a mono-etiologic theory of AD or a mono-therapeutic approach that has repeatedly positive results, so although I understand that there are many theories and treatments, there doesn’t seem to be one etiology to the disease, nor does there seem to be one simple treatment that works for most. It is much more like a network failure.”

At a specific level:

  • “There doesn’t seem to be one etiology to the disease,
  • nor does there seem to be one simple treatment that works for most.
  • We don’t have pathological evidence that the disease process is gone.”

For general concepts, however:

  • “AD is turning out to be a protective response to multiple insults,
  • It is a network-downsizing, protective response, which is quite effective.
  • The amyloid is actually protecting against pathogens or toxins or some other insult.”

For a framework of an AD cure to be valid, each source of each insult that evoked each “protective response” should be traced.

Longitudinal studies would be preferred inside this framework. These study designs would investigate evidence of each insult’s potential modifying effect on each “protective response” that could affect the cumulative disease trajectory of each individual.

In many cases, existing study designs would be adequate if they extended their periods to the end of the subjects’ natural lifetimes. One AD-relevant example would be extending the prenatally-restraint-stressed model used in:

The framework would also encourage extending studies to at least three generations to investigate evidence for transgenerational effects, as were found in:

Disproving the cholesterol paradigm

This 2018 review presented evidence that:

“For half a century, a high level of total cholesterol (TC) or low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) has been considered to be the major cause of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease (CVD), and statin treatment has been widely promoted for cardiovascular prevention. However, there is an increasing understanding that the mechanisms are more complicated and that statin treatment, in particular when used as primary prevention, is of doubtful benefit.

The authors of three large reviews recently published by statin advocates have attempted to validate the current dogma. This article delineates the serious errors in these three reviews as well as other obvious falsifications of the cholesterol hypothesis.

Our search for falsifications of the cholesterol hypothesis confirms that it is unable to satisfy any of the Bradford Hill criteria for causality and that the conclusions of the authors of the three reviews are based on:

  • Misleading statistics,
  • Exclusion of unsuccessful trials and by
  • Ignoring numerous contradictory observations.

The association between the absolute risk reduction of total mortality in 26 statin trials [squares] included in the study by Silverman et al. and in 11 ignored trials [triangles] and the year where the trial protocols were published. The vertical line indicates the year where the new trial regulations were introduced.

In 2004–2005, health authorities in Europe and the United States introduced New Clinical Trial Regulations, which specified that all trial data had to be made public. Since 2005, claims of benefit from statin trials have virtually disappeared.

This paradigm was proven wrong eighty years ago! How much longer will its harmful consequences continue? “LDL-C does not cause cardiovascular disease: a comprehensive review of the current literature”

Eat your oats

Here’s some motivation to replenish your oats supply.

From a 2013 Canadian human review:

“Review of human studies investigating the post-prandial blood-glucose lowering ability of oat and barley food products”

“Change in glycaemic response (expressed as incremental area under the post-prandial blood-glucose curve) was greater for intact grains than for processed foods. For processed foods, glycaemic response was more strongly related to the β-glucan dose alone than to the ratio of β-glucan to the available carbohydrate.”

The review found that people don’t have to eat a lot of carbohydrates to get the glycemic-response benefits of β-glucan. Also, eating ~3 grams of β-glucan in whole oats and barley will deliver the same glycemic-response benefits as eating ~4 grams of β-glucan in processed oats and barley.

The glycemic index used in the review is otherwise a very flawed measure, however. It doesn’t help healthy people to rank food desirability using an unhealthy-white-bread standard.

The reviewer somewhat redeemed herself by participating in a 2018 review:

“Processing of oat: the impact on oat’s cholesterol lowering effect”

“For a similar dose of β-glucan:

  1. Liquid oat-based foods seem to give more consistent, but moderate reductions in cholesterol than semi-solid or solid foods where the results are more variable;
  2. The quantity of β-glucan and the molecular weight at expected consumption levels (∼3 g day) play a role in cholesterol reduction; and
  3. Unrefined β-glucan-rich oat-based foods (where some of the plant tissue remains intact) often appear more efficient at lowering cholesterol than purified β-glucan added as an ingredient.”

The review’s sections 3. Degree of processing and functionality and 4. Synergistic action of oat constituents were informative:

“Both in vitro and in vivo studies clearly demonstrated the beneficial effect of oat on cholesterolemia, which is unlikely to be due exclusively to β-glucan, but rather to a combined and synergetic action of several oat compounds acting together to reduce blood cholesterol levels.”

Another use of β-glucan is to improve immune response. Here’s a 2016 Netherlands study where the researchers used β-glucan to get a dozen people well after making them sick with lipopolysaccharide as is often done in animal studies:

β-Glucan Reverses the Epigenetic State of LPS-Induced Immunological Tolerance”

“The innate immune “training stimulus” β-glucan can reverse macrophage tolerance ex vivo.”

I’ve curated other research on β-glucan’s immune-response benefits in:

Epigenetic clock statistics and methods

This 2018 Chinese study was a series of statistical and methodological counter-arguments to a previous epigenetic clock study finding that:

“Only [CpG] sites mapping to the ELOVL2 promoter constitute cell and tissue-type independent aDMPs [age-associated differentially methylated positions].”

The study used external data sets and the newer epigenetic clock’s fibroblast data in its analyses to find:

“While we agree that specific sites mapping to ELOVL2 are special aDMPs in the sense that their effect sizes are particularly large across a number of different tissue-types, our analysis suggests that most aDMPs are valid across multiple different tissue types, suggesting that shared aDMPs are common.”

The details of each of the study’s counter-arguments were compelling. For example:

“We analyzed Illumina 850k data from an EWAS profiling blood, buccal and cervical samples from a common set of 263 women. Because blood is a complex mixture of many immune-cell subtypes, and buccal and cervical samples are highly contaminated by immune cells, we identified aDMPs in each tissue after adjustment for batch effects and cell-type heterogeneity.

Using either an FDR [false discovery rate] < 0.05 or Bonferroni adjusted P-value < 0.05 thresholds, the overlap of aDMPs between the 3 tissues was highly significant, mimicking the result obtained on blood cell subtypes. We observed a total of 2200 aDMPs in common between blood, buccal and cervix, an overlap which cannot be explained by random chance.”

The study’s Discussion section provided qualifications and limitations such as:

“It is important to point out that even if age-associated DNAm changes are widespread across the genome, downstream functional effects may be rare. While specific aDMPs may be shared between tissue-types, it is only in specific tissues or cell-types that any associated functional deregulation may be of biological and clinical significance. “Cell and tissue type independent age-associated DNA methylation changes are not rare but common”

The November 2018 issue of Aging also contained other articles of interest: “Accelerated DNA methylation age and the use of antihypertensive medication among older adults”

“DNAmAge and AA [age acceleration] may not be able to capture the preventive effects of AHMs [antihypertensive medications] that reduce cardiovascular risks and mortality.” “Azithromycin and Roxithromycin define a new family of senolytic drugs that target senescent human fibroblasts”

“Azithromycin preferentially targets senescent cells, removing approximately 97% of them with great efficiency. This represents a near 25-fold reduction in senescent cells.” “Disease or not, aging is easily treatable”

“Aging consists of progression from (pre)-pre-diseases (early aging) to diseases (late aging associated with functional decline). Aging is NOT a risk factor for these diseases, as aging consists of these diseases: aging and diseases are inseparable.”

The arrogance of a paradigm exceeding its evidence

This 2018 commentary from the American College of Emergency Physicians by 7 physicians discussed the harm that will result from imposing a mandatory paradigm of sepsis treatment. I’ll quote sections that mention evidence:

“These metrics [for pneumonia treatment] had little evidentiary basis but led to an institutional-fostered culture of overdiagnosis and overtreatment. Have we learned from this folly or does a new sepsis guideline promote similar time-based treatment strategies with little direct supporting evidence?

Like the pneumonia quality measure, this resource-heavy care flows from an overreaching interpretation of evidence. Despite that evidence consistently fails to find a benefit of a single treatment strategy, the Surviving Sepsis Campaign continues to promote recommendations that bypass the individual clinician’s judgment.

Although well intentioned, the current sepsis bundles and the potential penalties associated with noncompliance lay a heavy weight on ED [emergency department] care absent evidence that a net benefit will follow. The proposed Surviving Sepsis Campaign abbreviated bundle heightens the burden by further restricting the time allotted for the identification and treatment of patients with suspected sepsis, all without any evidence of benefit or knowledge of the logistic consequences or cost.”

The paradigm’s promoters didn’t learn the appropriate lessons in the above page regarding “the sense of embarrassment and regret once experienced with the pneumonia quality metric.”

What do you think are the root causes of the Surviving Sepsis Campaign’s agenda?

  • Did it start with lawyers? Lawsuits can force hospitals into actions for which the primary reason is to avoid “the potential penalties associated with noncompliance.”
  • Is it due to governments? Governments can force hospitals into actions “without any evidence of benefit or knowledge of the logistic consequences or cost” when the hospitals accept government reimbursement.
  • Did it start with other groups of unaccountable people who think they know better than everyone else about how others should act? “The 2018 Surviving Sepsis Campaign’s Treatment Bundle: When Guidelines Outpace the Evidence Supporting Their Use” (not freely available)