Research lifts Oreos over bacon

Luis Fábregas
| Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Oreos can be as addictive as cocaine. Happiness lowers blood pressure. Too much bacon lowers a man's sperm count.

That much I learned this week while scanning the dozens, if not hundreds, of studies that land in my inbox every week. It's one of the perks of writing about medicine and the health care industry, if you can call that a perk.

There are so many studies coming out every day from research facilities, it's hard to decide which one matters, or if we should even care. Are we really advancing medicine by declaring that Americans are hooked on Oreos? The study by a Connecticut College researcher found that rats are just like most humans — they like to eat the white stuff in the middle first. Now that's important.

Some studies evoke an immediate ‘What were they thinking?' feel. For example, we learned this week that a compound in cabbage protected laboratory mice from lethal doses of radiation. Does that mean cancer patients should eat more haluski?

To appreciate the absurdity of some studies, look no further than the National Institutes of Health, the nation's primary biomedical research agency. The NIH spends more than $30 billion a year on grants to pay for research. The agency gave more than $2 million to a Boston hospital to study why a large number of lesbians tend to be obese. It also spent more than a million dollars to study if rats that are given cocaine will abandon their babies.

For every questionable study, there's a significant project that sheds light on medical quandaries. They come from prestigious institutions such as Harvard, Johns Hopkins and the University of Pennsylvania. Locally, the University of Pittsburgh gets more than $400 million from the NIH. This week, Pitt researchers revealed that retired night-shift workers have a higher rate of diabetes. Not exactly a water-cooler topic, but at least it's practical and informative.

The bacon study piqued my interest because, really, who doesn't have a soft spot for bacon? We don't just love bacon cheeseburgers and BLTs. We wrap bacon around steaks and put it in pancakes. Heck, my wife once made bacon/chocolate chip biscotti.

Better yet, the study came from the highly regarded Harvard School of Public Health. Prior studies from the institution have shed light on the toxin levels of toenail clippings and how angry, middle-aged men suffer accelerated wear and tear on the lungs. So clearly this had to be a serious work of research, right?

Researchers who studied 156 young men found that the more processed meats they ate (bacon, sausage, burgers and ham), the less healthy sperm they had.

To better understand the implications, I reached out to Heather Lauer, author of the book “Bacon, A Love Story: A Salty Survey of Everybody's Favorite Meat.”

“Finally, there's birth control for men — and something much better than swallowing a pill!” she said.

But didn't I just read a few months ago that a higher-fat breakfast might be healthier than we think? And what about the study from the University of North Carolina saying that a component of bacon called choline plays a critical role in fetal brain development?

Guess it boils down to self-control. As Lauer told me, if preventing pregnancy is not a priority, bacon should be enjoyed in moderation.

Luis Fábregas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7998 or

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