January 10, 2018

Understanding science

Why we’re not wired to think scientifically (and what can be done about it)

What is it about being human that conflicts with being scientific?

Read Time 8 minutes

Author’s note: This post was originally published in May, 2014. It has been updated to reflect my current thinking on the topic. Perhaps the best addition, by popular demand, is Rik’s coffee recipe (click the 1st inline footnote).


In 2012, I was having dinner with a good friend, Rik Ganju, who is one of the smartest people I know. And one of the most talented, too—a brilliant engineer, a savant-like jazz musician, a comedic writer, and he makes the best coffee I’ve ever had.1Here is the coffee recipe, courtesy Rik. I make this often and the typical response is, “Why are you not making this for a living?” Look for Vietnamese cinnamon, also known as Saigon cinnamon; you need two big dashes, if that. You need real vanilla (be careful to avoid the cheap versions with added sugar). Best is dissolved in ethanol; if that doesn’t work for you get the dried stick and scrape the pods. Then find a spice store and get chicory root (I’m a bit lazy and get mine on Amazon). You’ll want to replace coffee beans with ~10% chicory on a dry weight basis. If you’re on a budget, cut your coffee with Trader Joe’s organic Bolivian. But do use at least 50% of your favorite coffee by dry weight: 50-40-10 (50% your favorite, 40% TJ Bolivian, 10% other ingredients [chicory root, cinnamon, vanilla, amaretto for an evening coffee]) would be a good mix to start. Let it sit in a French press for 6 minutes then drink straight or with cream, but very little–max is 1 tablespoon of cream. The Rik original was done with “Ether” from Philz as the base. I was whining to him about my frustration with what I perceived to be a lack of scientific literacy among people from whom I “expected more.” Why was it, I asked, that a reporter at a top-flight newspaper couldn’t understand the limitations of a study he was reporting on? Are they trying to deliberately mislead people, or do they really think this study which showed an association between such-and-such, somehow implies X?

Rik just looked at me, kind of smiled, and asked the question in another way. “Peter, give me one good reason why scientific process, rigorous logic, and rational thought should be innate to our species?” I didn’t have an answer. So as I proceeded to eat my curry, Rik expanded on this idea. He offered two theses. One, the human brain is oriented to pleasure ahead of logic and reason; two, the human brain is oriented to imitation ahead of logic and reason. What follows is my attempt to reiterate the ideas we discussed that night, focusing on the second of Rik’s postulates—namely, that our brains are oriented to imitate rather than to reason from first principles or think scientifically.

One point before jumping in: This post is not meant to be disparaging to those who don’t think scientifically. Rather, it’s meant to offer a plausible explanation. If for no other reason, it’s a way for me to capture an important lesson I need to remember in my own journey of life. I’m positive some will find a way to be offended by this, which is rarely my intention in writing, but nevertheless I think there is something to learn in telling this story.

The evolution of thinking

Two billion years ago, we were just cells acquiring a nucleus. A good first step, I suppose. Two million years ago, we left the trees for caves. Two hundred thousand years ago we became modern man. No one can say exactly when language arrived, because its arrival left no artifacts, but the best available science suggests it showed up about 50,000 years ago.

I wanted to plot the major milestones, below, on a graph. But even using a log scale, it’s almost unreadable. The information is easier to see in this table:

Formal logic arrived with Aristotle 2,500 years ago; the scientific method was pioneered by Francis Bacon 400 years ago. Shortly following the codification of the scientific method—which defined exactly what “good” science meant—the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge was formed. So, not only did we know what “good” science was, but we had an organization that expanded the application, including peer review, and existed to continually ask the question, “Is this good science?”

While the Old Testament makes references to the earliest clinical trial—observing what happened to those who did or did not partake of the “King’s meat”—the process was codified further by 1025 AD in The Canon of Medicine, and formalized in the 18th century by James Lind, the Scottish physician who discovered, using randomization between groups, the curative properties of oranges and lemons—vitamin C, actually—in treating sailors with scurvy. Hence the expression, “Limey.”

The concept of statistical significance is barely 100 years old, thanks to Ronald Fisher, the British statistician who popularized the use of the p-value and proposed the limits of chance versus significance.

The art of imitation

Consider that for 2 million years we have been evolving—making decisions, surviving, and interacting—but for only the last 2,500 years (0.125% of that time) have we had “access” to formal logic, and for only 400 years (0.02% of that time) have we had “access” to scientific reason and understanding of scientific methodologies.

Whatever a person was doing before modern science—however clever it may have been—it wasn’t actually science. And along the same vein, how many people were practicing logical thinking before logic itself was invented? Perhaps some were doing so prior to Aristotle, but certainly it was rare compared to the time following its codification.

Options for problem-solving are limited to the tools available. The arrival of logic was a major tool. So, too, was the arrival of the scientific method, clinical trials, and statistical analyses. Yet for the first 99.98% of our existence on this planet as humans—literally—we had to rely on other options—other tools, if you will — for solving problems and making decisions.

So what were they?

We can make educated guesses. If it’s 3,000 BC and your tribemate Ugg never gets sick, all you can do to try to not get sick is hang out where he hangs out, wear similar colors, drink from the same well—replicate his every move. You are not going to figure out anything from first principles because that isn’t an option, any more than traveling by jet across the Pacific Ocean was an option. Nothing is an option until it has been invented.

So we’ve had millions of years to evolve and refine the practice of:

Step 1: Identify a positive trait (e.g., access to food, access to mates),

Step 2: Mimic the behaviors of those possessing the trait(s),

Step 3: Repeat.

Yet, we’ve only had a minute fraction of that time to learn how to apply formal logic and scientific reason to our decision making and problem solving. In other words, evolution has hardwired us to be followers, copycats if you will, so we must go very far out of our way to unlearn those inborn (and highly refined) instincts to think logically and scientifically.

Recently, neuroscientists (thanks to the advent of functional MRI, or fMRI) have been asking questions about the impact of independent thinking (something I think we would all agree is “healthy”) on brain activity. I think this body of research is still in its infancy, but the results are suggestive, if not somewhat provocative.

To quote the authors of this work, “if social conformity resulted from conscious decision-making, this would be associated with functional changes in prefrontal cortex, whereas if social conformity was more perceptually based, then activity changes would be seen in occipital and parietal regions.” Their study suggested that non-conformity produced an associated “pain of independence.” In the study-subjects the amygdala became most active in times of non-conformity, suggesting that non-conformity—doing exactly what we didn’t evolve to do—produced emotional distress.

From an evolutionary perspective, of course, this makes sense. I don’t know enough neuroscience to agree with their suggestion that this phenomenon should be titled the “pain of independence,” but the “emotional discomfort” from being different—i.e., not following or conforming—seems to be evolutionarily embedded in our brains.

Good solid thinking is really hard to do as you no doubt realize. How much easier is it to economize on all this and just “copy & paste” what seemingly successful people are doing? Furthermore, we may be wired to experience emotional distress when we don’t copy our neighbor! And while there may have been only 2 or 3 Ugg’s in our tribe 5,000 years ago, as our societies evolved, so too did the number of potential Ugg’s (those worth mimicking). This would be great (more potential good examples to mirror), if we were naturally good at thinking logically and scientifically, but we’ve already established that’s not the case. Amplifying this problem even further, the explosion of mass media has made it virtually, if not entirely, impossible to identify those truly worth mimicking versus those who are charlatans, or simply lucky. Maybe it’s not so surprising the one group of people we’d all hope could think critically—politicians—seems to be as useless at it as the rest of us.

So we have two problems:

  1. We are not genetically equipped to think logically or scientifically; such thinking is a very recent tool of our species that must be learned and, with great effort, “overwritten.” Furthermore, it’s likely that we are programmed to identify and replicate the behavior of others, rather than think independently, and independent thought may actually cause emotional distress.
  2. The signal (truly valuable behaviors worth mimicking)-to-noise (all unworthy behaviors) ratio is so low—virtually zero—today that the folks who have not been able to “overwrite” their genetic tendency for problem-solving are doomed to confusion and likely poor decision making.

As I alluded to at the outset of this post, I find myself getting frustrated, often, at the lack of scientific literacy and independent, critical thought in the media and in the public arena more broadly. But, is this any different than being upset that Monarch butterflies are black and orange rather than yellow and red? Marcus Aurelius reminds us that you must not be surprised by buffoonery from buffoons, “You might as well resent a fig tree for secreting juice.”

While I’m not at all suggesting people unable to think scientifically or logically are buffoons, I am suggesting that expecting this kind of thinking as the default behavior from people is tantamount to expecting rhinoceroses not to charge or dogs not to bark—sure it can be taught with great patience and pain, but it won’t be easy in short time.

Furthermore, I am not suggesting that anyone who disagrees with my views or my interpretations of data frustrates me. I have countless interactions with folks whom I respect greatly but who interpret data differently from me. This is not the point I am making, and these are not the experiences that frustrate me. Healthy debate is a wonderful contributor to scientific advancement. Blogging probably isn’t. My point is that critical thought, logical analysis, and an understanding of the scientific method are completely foreign to us, and if we want to possess these skills, it requires deliberate action and time.

What can we do about it?

I’ve suggested that we aren’t wired to be good critical thinkers, and that this poses problems when it comes to our modern lives. The just-follow-your-peers-or-the-media-or-whatever-seems-to-work approach simply isn’t good enough anymore.

But is there a way to overcome this?

I don’t have a “global” (i.e., how to fix the world) solution for this problem, but the “local” (i.e., individual) solution is quite simple provided one feature is in place: a desire to learn. I consider myself scientifically literate. Sure, I may never become one-tenth a Richard Feynman, but I “get it” when it comes to understanding the scientific method, logic, and reason. Why? I certainly wasn’t born this way. Nor did medical school do a particularly great job of teaching it. I was, however, very lucky to be mentored by a brilliant scientist, Steve Rosenberg, both in medical school and during my post-doctoral fellowship. Whatever I have learned about thinking scientifically I learned from him initially, and eventually from many other influential thinkers. And I’m still learning, obviously. In other words, I was mentored in this way of thinking just as every other person I know who thinks this way was also mentored. One of my favorite questions when I’m talking with (good) scientists is to ask them who mentored them in their evolution of critical thinking.

Relevant aside: Take a few minutes to watch Feynman at his finest in this video—the entire video is remarkable, especially the point about “proof,”—but the first minute is priceless and a spot on explanation of how experimental science should work.

You may ask, is learning to think critically any different than learning to play an instrument? Learning a new language? Learning to be mindful? Learning a physical skill like tennis? I don’t think so. Sure, some folks may be predisposed to be better than others, even with equal training, but virtually anyone can get “good enough” at a skill if they want to put the effort in. The reason I can’t play golf is because I don’t want to, not because I lack some ability to learn it.

If you’re reading this, and you’re saying to yourself that you want to increase your mastery of critical thinking, I promise you this much—you can do it if you’re willing to do the following:

  1. Start reading (see starter list, below).
  2. Whenever confronted with a piece of media claiming to report on a scientific finding, read both the actual study and the media, in that order. See if you can spot the mistakes in reporting.
  3. Find other like-minded folks to discuss scientific studies. I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes at the idea of a “journal club,” but it doesn’t need to be that formal at all (though years of formal weekly journal clubs did teach me a lot). You just need a good group of peers who share your appetite for sharpening their critical thinking skills. In fact, we have a regularly occurring journal club on this site (starting in January, 2018).

I look forward to seeing the comments on this post, as I suspect many of you will have excellent suggestions for reading materials for those of us who want to get better in our critical thinking and reasoning. I’ll start the list with a few of my favorites, in no particular order:

  1. Anything by Richard Feynman (In college and med school, I would not date a girl unless she agreed to read “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman”)
  2. The Transformed Cell, by Steve Rosenberg
  3. Anything by Karl Popper
  4. Anything by Frederic Bastiat
  5. Bad Science, by Gary Taubes
  6. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn
  7. Risk, Chance, and Causation, by Michael Bracken
  8. Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson
  9. Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
  10. The Method of Multiple Working Hypotheses,” by T.C. Chamberlin

I’m looking forward to other recommendations.

Disclaimer: This blog is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute the practice of medicine, nursing or other professional health care services, including the giving of medical advice, and no doctor/patient relationship is formed. The use of information on this blog or materials linked from this blog is at the user's own risk. The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Users should not disregard, or delay in obtaining, medical advice for any medical condition they may have, and should seek the assistance of their health care professionals for any such conditions.


  1. The quickest starter kit to critical thinking is “Your Deceptive Mind” – a course by Steven Novella. Steve is a fantastic teacher and a carrier of the scientific method torch of our generation. Also a neurologist.

  2. Thanks Peter. I’ve just discovered your blog and I’m already hooked. As a health/fitness enthusiast, I enjoy reading research papers that investigate the health claims of various supplements however it can be very time-consuming. If you haven’t already discovered http://www.examine.com, check it out. It essentially unlocks all the research behind (virtually) every supplement on the market and delivers the scientific evidence in an unbiased and (importantly) easy to read format. It also has direct links to all published research that it references if you want to do further investigating. Cheers!

  3. Check out “The Art of Tracking: The Origin of Science” by Louis Liebenberg, free download available at
    http://cybertracker.org/tracking/tracking-books/276-the-art-of-tracking-the-origin-of-science. Also Brain Rule 12 of John Medina’s “Brain Rules.”

    Both of these books seem to refute the idea that scientific process, rigorous logic, and rational thought are not innate to our species.

    Liebenberg posits that the scientific method originated on the savanna in Africa while our ancestors were learning how to survive by tracking and killing wild game. Of course, they would not have called it the scientific method, but it appears that the process has developed over a much longer period of time than we have had the words with which to describe it. Same for Medina’s brain rule number 12: “We are all powerful and natural explorers.” He describes his two-year-old son’s process of learning as paralleling the scientific method.
    My view is that our forebears experientially embodied the scientific method: forming a hypothesis, testing it, observing whether it worked, and then revising the hypothesis to fit the new information. Naturally, people copied the things that worked and didn’t copy the stuff that didn’t work.

    That we have only recently named, systematized, and formalized the process does not mean that it did not exist until we named it.

    I happily and enthusiastically agree that our brains did not develop by reasoning from first principles, whatever those are. First principles, and the like, are a gloss or overlay on experience, so we necessarily have to get burned a few times before developing the first principle that “hot things burn us.”

  4. hello to you all;

    on a first note i would like to start by saying that to much ketosis produce this kind of articles ( way ahead of the worries one as on is mind on a daily basis) where one can expect a broad discussion going on from this topic; and on a second note to go in nutritional ketosis will deliver as a result to no longer mimic and start your own production of reasoning!

    sure…that’s what i expect and foresee for myself.

    finally , i have this doubt: learn by doing, taking the real experiment, is that mimic or the start of a scientific reasoning?

    congrats for the blog

  5. Thanks for your excellent posts Dr.Attia. Reading this one brought to mind a book I recently read that seems to strengthen your argument. It’s “The Rational Animal” – Douglas T. Kenrick & Vladas Griskevicius (http://www.amazon.com/The-Rational-Animal-Evolution-Smarter/dp/0465032427). The authors make a claim that although many human behaviors do not seem rational, they very well may be if you look at them through the lens of evolutionary physiology. In particular there’s a chapter which makes a case for why statistics are ‘difficult’ for our brains to understand but if the situation is phrased differently it can make perfect sense (and why an illiterate Peruvian amazonian tribe was better at a stats quiz than Harvard students). 🙂 Cheers. !!G

  6. O Canada!
    Our home and native land!
    True patriot love in all thy sons command –

    3:00AM I sit hear looking at my bare right foot – my already too high top of my instep has a lump or bone spur on it – humm ——— no wonder it’s so freaking hard to get my ski boots on –

    Hard lump 2 1/2″ above and right of my groin – doctor say’s hernia – I ask him what causes the hard lump – he just stares at me like a deer in the headlights –

    I figure since it occurs at the end of my small intestine – my large intestine may be to full preventing food leaving my small intestine and causing my small intestine to bulge (and therefore the hard lump –

    My doctor concurs and say’s – yes – ” I really do think your full of shxt ” –

    You betcha and dontchaknow – this hernia hard lump thing can last as long as four hours – your too sick or tired to move – too sick to get in your car and drive to the emergency room – so you just sit there or lay there and wonder if your dying or passing a kidney stone or your appendix is having an erection (the hard lump) – then during this time you throw-up twice and have two bowel movements –

    This happens like one time a month – I don’t wont the operation because I would have to stop exercizing for month –

    It:s now 3:24AM – dontchaknow

    So – If ? I catch it (hard lump) – early enough – I can usually massage it away –

    and – If I pop three Advil – three Tizanidine and three Hydrocodone – the hard lump just goes away –

    Which leads me to think that some sort of muscular bindment or contraction is happening to my small intestine –

    Since no one seems to know what causes a hernia – I’m left thinking up reasons or the cause on my own –

    O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
    God keep our land glorious and free!
    O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
    O Canada, we stand on guard for thee –

  7. Great article. Very succinct discussion on what is a complex thing.

    I am interested in the gap analysis of what you describe. A: It would be great for people to think more scientifically. B: Many intelligent people seem to take a running leap over what seems to some to be logical discussion and do not have an opinion that reflects non-scientific, possibly sensationalist, maybe ‘popular’ view

    You should do a TEDx talk on this subject.

    Just discovered your blog through this article so interested in back tracking your articles.

  8. Peter, I’d like to call your attention here. Don’t overlook Taleb. His last book has wide application across many fields, and there are some simple and powerful tools you could use in your work both for insight and for practical matters.

    I happened to come across this quote. It’s a reflection of the math of antifragility as applied to your favorite subject:

    Art de Vany and Jensen’s inequality: “Tissue gains are increasing but convex with nutrient intake (the curve is rising, but at a diminishing rate). This has to be the case for the point of origin to be a steady state solution. This implies that weight gain, including fat, is higher at the average intake than it is on a varying intake of the same calories and nutrients. Muscle and fat compete for substrate, so a fatter person will shift nutrient partitioning toward muscle because body fat induces insulin resistance in muscle. Insulin operates in a pulsate release and is far more effective with that pattern than with the chronic elevation induced by six meals a day. On the downside, where fat and muscle are lost, the curve is negatively sloped but declines at a diminishing rate (concave). This means you lose more fat feeding intermittently than continuously. The loss at the average intake (six per day keeps the variation of the average small) is less than the loss at the same intake but one that varies between a small intake and a large one.”

    His BS detector is high.

    Don’t overlook him.

  9. Best article I have read in a long, long time. & I regularly search out articles like this. THANK you for writing it.

  10. From my perspective, the most important problem is not figuring out what to eat, a more important part is figuring out how to alter our lives so that we actually do what we know we should do. That’s where all of the dietary strategies fail for most people, their low adherence.

    Our current focus is too much on diets and not enough on actually implementing a healthy diet even when we think we know what that means. So rather than generic critical thinking books, I think more useful for thinking about nutrition would be books that offer long term change strategies such as by introducing the cognitive behavioral science of nutrition, which studies the reasons why we eat what we eat. Knowing the factors that go into preferences and eating choices lets us restructure our local environment to actually promote the better eating we know we should be doing.

    There is not a lot yet for popular reading but some early examples in this genre would be Brian Wansink’s “Mindless Eating,” and Tracy Mann’s “Secrets from the Eating Lab.”

    When we deal in critical thinking, the problem is that critical thinking is partly domain specific, so just like the case with learning about biases and heuristics in general, general books about critical thinking often tend to just help people confirm their existing biases while pretending to be thinking more critically. The need to actually engage the thinking in the subject at hand to also learn to think critically about a specific topic.

    I think Jamie Hale’s text “Knowledge and Nonsense” is a good example of critical thinking specific to nutrition and fitness.

    kind regards,


    • Also if you haven’t seen it, Tom Stafford has a very thoughtful and well researched article that addresses the intimately related question of whether we can persuade each other through rational argument.


      “Are we a rational animal, or as Robert Heinlein said, merely a rationalizing one? Sure, there’s no shortage of evidence that our intuitions, emotions, prejudices and motivations can push reason around. Good luck to you if you want to use only argument to persuade – unless you’ve got people who already like you or trust you (ideally both) you’re going to have a hard time, but amidst the storm and shouting of psychological factors, reason has a quiet power. People do change each other’s minds, and if you can demonstrate the truth of your point of view, or help someone come to realize the short-comings of theirs, maybe you can shift them along. But beware Singer’s warning – logic has its own dynamic. If you open yourself to sincerely engage in argument then it is as likely that your interlocutor will persuade you as the other way around, after all, none of us has sole claim on what it means to be rational.”


  11. This was especially helpful, I started the Keto diet taking advice from my dad who reads your work extensively along with other more non conventional health professionals, and for the longest time I was unable to clearly explain the science behind eating “healthier” and cure through food. the only evidence I had was a huge smile on my face everyday because of the way I felt and my story of losing 20lbs in 3 months! Also bragging that I haven had a migraine not once since I switched to Keto. I was exactly like you, a little overweight but I exercised and my husband is a Doctor so we kept all “bad foods” out of the house. Then I got diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, my friends were shocked and the first thing they said was “But you are not fat?” it was refreshing hearing your story, I was 33 yrs old when diagnosed and weight 140lbs, never in a thousand years did I think I would be well on my way to Diabetes!!

    Im following your blog and trying to map out your research to make it easier for others to understand, Im not a scientist, but I think I get the bulk of it. Unfortunately not everyone is patient enough to comb through all the details. thanks for all of your help and actually going against the grain! You Rock!!!

  12. Adding to a list of great books about thinking and developing a scientific mind set I would include “Personal Knowledge” by Michael Polanyi. He influenced Kuhn!

  13. Your Blog rocks.

    This addition to your blog is particularly stimulating.

    The Chimp Paradox by Dr. Steve Peters has some more suggestions on why we do not naturally “think critically”.

    You post also reminded me of something I had recently read by Dr. David Katz: Money, Time, and the Science that Suits Us

    If you have trouble pulling up the article send me your email and I will send along a PDF.

  14. Peter,

    I feel a giant is missing from your list, that man being Friedrich Nietzsche.

    While often concerned with Art and the human soul (and how could one question that choice? a long discussion for another time), his incessant fight against Dogma and The Idols, the long musings about confusion/inversion of Cause and Effect and the all too human reasons for such fallacy constitute in my view the pillars of modern thinking.

    Then of course only he could get away with opening Beyond Good and Evil in such a graceful while unscientific way:

    ‘Suppose that truth is a woman – and why not? Aren’t there reasons for suspecting that all philosophers, to the extent that they have been dogmatists, have not really understood women? That the grotesque seriousness of their approach towards the truth and the clumsy advances they have made so far are unsuitable ways of pressing their suit with a woman? What is certain is that she has spurned them – leaving dogmatism of all types standing sad and discouraged. If it is even left standing!’

  15. Good thoughts, do you think the fact that we are not wired to think logically has something to do with why there are so many sick people around these days (we are more stuck in our heads, overly analytical and logical, and disconnected from our more primitive senses) ?

    Very interesting debate anyway! I just came across this site, glad I found it!


  16. Hey Dr A –

    Ever come across ” THe Story of the Human Body” by Daniel E Lieberman? A very broad review of human evolution and its bearing on disease. Might be worth a perusal for you.
    Good luck with your book project . Most of us are not wired to write entire books either!

  17. Dear Peter Attia, MD

    I watched you on Ted Talks this morning talking about “Insulin Resistance” Fat people may be the victims.” How you had to make the decision to amputate the ladies leg, very sad. My Wife & I both struggle with weight issues. Read a few of your Bloggs this one started “How people do not think Scientifically!” I only started thinking Scientifically as I started having bad reactions to chemicals I had worked with on my Job. After discussing my saga of Headaches, Strange sparkles in my vision, chemical sensitivity, and skin rashes, weight gain! Recently I started using Sodium Fluoride Free Toothpaste. The sparkles in my vision stopped, I am exercising stronger than ever before. Started to detox my body of Fluorides with Iodine. It is so liberating to think Scientifically and find some Junk Science like Fluoridating our water and brushing our teeth with Rat Posion Sodium Fluoride and the heavy metal SnF Tin Fluoride in Toothpaste so the Sodium Fluoride does not poision us, unless You floss with your Toothpaste as I was. Not one MD ever mentioned these could be reactions to your Toothpaste! Back to the fat cells not working correctly in Obese people; could this be due to Sodium Fluoride low grade poisioning since the 1950’s? Can we really trust Chemist working for Corporate America?

    Thank You.

    Robert Young

  18. In response to the Coffee Recipe , “Look for Vietnamese cinnamon, also known as Saigon cinnamon; you need two big dashes if that.”

    All varietals of cinnamon are not equal. The vaiable is Coumarin, a substance that can cause liver damage or complete failure. Only Ceylon Cinnamon has low levels of Coumarin, while all other varieties of Cinnamon have high levels of Coumarin. If you are just using cinnamon for coffee this may not be an issue but if you are also ingesting cinnamon to reduce insulin resistance, anti-inflammatory effects or to help lower blood sugar levels there may be risk.

    More complete info here:

    And here:

    Warning 4 – Hepatotoxic drugs: Medications that can harm the liver interact with cinnamon. Taking large amounts of cinnamon along with medications that might also harm the liver might increase the risk of liver damage. Do not take large amounts of cinnamon if you are taking a medication that can harm the liver. These include:
    acetaminophen (Tylenol and others)
    amiodarone (Cordarone)
    carbamazepine (Tegretol)
    isoniazid (INH)
    methotrexate (Rheumatrex)
    methyldopa (Aldomet)
    fluconazole (Diflucan)
    itraconazole (Sporanox)
    erythromycin (Erythrocin, Ilosone, others)
    phenytoin (Dilantin)
    lovastatin (Mevacor)
    pravastatin (Pravachol)
    simvastatin (Zocor)
    An article in Clinical Toxicology, “Essential Oil Poisoning” (Issue Volume 37, Number 6/1999) voiced concerns about the risks of very high quantities of cinnamon. An ingredient in some cinnamon products, coumarin, may be toxic, particularly in people with liver problems.

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