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.”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6366976/ “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.”

https://onezero.medium.com/a-new-test-predicts-when-youll-die-give-or-take-a-few-years-2d08147c8ea6 “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.”

https://joshmitteldorf.scienceblog.com/2019/03/05/dnam-grimage-the-newest-methylation-clock “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, the review from earlier this week 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 alluded to this point, but glossed it over:

“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.”

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Our brains are shaped by our early environments

This 2019 McGill paper reviewed human and animal studies on brain-shaping influences from the fetal period through childhood:

“In neonates, regions of the methylome that are highly variable across individuals are explained by the genotype alone in 25 percent of cases. The best explanation for 75 percent of variably methylated regions is the interaction of genotype with different in utero environments.

A meta-analysis including 45,821 individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and 9,207,363 controls suggests that conditions such as preeclampsia, Apgar score lower than 7 at 5 minutes, breech/transverse presentations, and prolapsed/nuchal cord – all of which involve some sort of poor oxygenation during delivery – are significantly associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The dopaminergic system seems to be one of the brain systems most affected by perinatal hypoxia-ischemia.

Exposure to childhood trauma activates the stress response systems and dysregulates serotonin transmission that can adversely impact brain development. Smaller cerebral, cerebellar, prefrontal cortex, and corpus callosum volumes were reported in maltreated young people as well as reduced hippocampal activity.

Environmental enrichment has a series of beneficial effects associated with neuroplasticity mechanisms, increasing hippocampal volume, and enhancing dorsal dentate gyrus-specific differences in gene expression. Environmental enrichment after prenatal stress decreases depressive-like behaviors and fear, and improves cognitive deficits.”


The reviewers presented strong evidence until the Possible Factors for Reversibility section, which ended with the assertion:

“All these positive environmental experiences mentioned in this section could counterbalance the detrimental effects of early life adversities, making individuals resilient to brain alterations and development of later psychopathology.”

The review’s penultimate sentence recognized that research is seldom done on direct treatments of causes:

“The cross-sectional nature of most epigenetic studies and the tissue specificity of the epigenetic changes are still challenges.”

Cross-sectional studies won’t provide definitive data on cause-and-effect relationships.

The question that remains to be examined is: How can humans best address these early-life causes to ameliorate their lifelong effects?

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/dmcn.14182 “Early environmental influences on the development of children’s brain structure and function” (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.”

https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/reversal-of-cognitive-decline-100-patients-2161-0460-1000450-105387.html “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?

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17512433.2018.1519391 “LDL-C does not cause cardiovascular disease: a comprehensive review of the current literature”

Stuck in the wrong paradigm

This 2019 article questioned the paradigm of determining substance carcinogenicity:

“In the absence of robust epidemiological data, the final arbiter of whether a chemical is considered to be a carcinogen or not has been based on the outcome of long-term rodent bioassays. This approach is incompatible with the current knowledge of the etiology of cancer. The current view of the etiology of cancer suggests that it is not useful to consider carcinogenicity as a single hazardous property with its own hazard category.

There is no bright line between carcinogens and non-carcinogens but rather there is a continuum with some chemicals having high potential, some having no potential, and others having potential at a point along the continuum. This continuum exists alongside other adverse effects. One problem is being stuck in the old practice of wishing to reproduce the binary “carcinogen/non-carcinogen” results of the long-term bioassay rather than move to a new paradigm in assessing the chemical’s position on the spectrum of carcinogenic potential.

The two-year bioassay has such high variability (because of the variability of the carcinogenic process it is trying to measure and the interplay between dose limiting toxicity and cell proliferation inducing toxicity) that the outcome of the assay for compounds with low to intermediate carcinogenic potential is little more than a lottery. After half a century, it has only been used to evaluate less than 5% of chemicals that are in use. It is not reproducible because of the probabalistic nature of the process it is evaluating combined with dose limiting toxicity, dose selection, and study design.”


Unscientific research paradigms will eventually collapse because they can’t withstand the scrutiny of the scientific method. Too bad the coauthors didn’t kill off this one while they were still in positions at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, World Health Organization, etc.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0273230019300248 “Chemical carcinogenicity revisited 2: Current knowledge of carcinogenesis shows that categorization as a carcinogen or non-carcinogen is not scientifically credible” (not freely available)

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” https://www.nature.com/articles/ejcn201325

“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” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5885279/

“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” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5927328/

“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:

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?

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0196064418306073 “The 2018 Surviving Sepsis Campaign’s Treatment Bundle: When Guidelines Outpace the Evidence Supporting Their Use” (not freely available)