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SKEPTOID BLOG:

Konstantin Monastyrsky - Pseudoscience of Nutrition (Part 1)

by Eric Hall

February 9, 2013

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Donate Surfing through my Facebook wall last week, I came across a post by a self-taught nutrition "expert" Konstantin Monastyrsky. I hesitate to even link to his website here, as it is so full of bad information, misrepresentation, and misdirection that I don't want people to go there and start believing it. Click the link below if you'd like, but I will break down several areas within it that should leave one to question his expertise and his claims.

First, let's look at Mr. Monastyrsky's biography. It begins:
Mr. Monastyrsky graduated from medical university in 1977 with a pharmacy degree. He is also a certified nutritional consultant and an expert in forensic nutrition, a new field of science that investigates the connection between supposedly healthy foods and nutrition-related disorders, such as diabetes and obesity.
There is no mention as to which medical university, although in Russia alone there are several. In the Ukraine where he was from (though it was still part of the USSR at the time), there are also several medical universities. I am not sure why he wouldn't reveal which one specifically, but it does lead me to question his expertise. There is also no mention as to what type of degree it is. It is possible at that time the Soviet Union still graduated people with a bachelor's degree in pharmacy, though at that time the Doctor of Pharmacy degree was pretty common throughout the world. From an education standpoint, much of his "expertise" appears to be self-taught.

The next year he emigrated to the United States from what was at that time the Soviet Union. He worked in the technology field here, working for several banks and contributing to the GUI of Windows and business programs for Windows. I believe he is including this in his biography to somehow bolster the claim of his intelligence. I have no doubt he is intelligent, but intelligence comes in many forms. I know quite a bit about computers and physics, but it in no way makes me an expert in biology or nutrition.

From there his biography is all about his personal experiences with various health conditions, which include diabetes, carpal tunnel syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), hemorrhoids, and others. He later in the bio explains that his diabetes led to many complications such as:
...sky-high triglycerides, erratic blood pressure, chronic colds and infections, painful gout and arthritis, debilitating carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic fatigue, migraines, insomnia, irritability, and depression.
So far, it seems like he has many of the complications of diabetes. But the timeline is a bit jumbled from here. I will pick out a few highlights.

Mr. Monastyrsky quit smoking in 1984 and claims shortly thereafter he developed the symptoms of IBS - but only points out the constipation as a symptom. Constipation is common among those who first quit smoking, so this doesn't seem like IBS, but just a common withdrawl symptom from the various chemicals in cigarettes, including the nicotine. He went to a doctor, where he was advised to increase his fiber intake, drink more water, and exercise more. Mr. Monastyrsky says his constipation went away. it would seem the doctor used the right approach.

However, when his began developing hemorrhoids two years later, he was advised to increase his fiber and water intake again. He isn't clear as to whether or not he stuck to his original plan from 1984, but it is clear Mr. Monastyrsky feels the fiber and water approach is not a good one. In 1988, he was diagnosed with IBS, and was told to continue on the high fiber diet. He says by 1994, he had embraced "...a vegetarian lifestyle with even more fiber and water," and even though he "... kept loading up on carb-heavy juices, fruits, vegetables, breads, rice, and pasta," he ended up "...twenty-four pounds overweight, clinically depressed, and suffering from a whole range of degenerative conditions specific to type 2 diabetes. The situation with IBS, constipation, and hemorrhoids degenerated, too."

So far, the entire biography on his expertise is studying his personal situation. He blames the vegetarian, high-fiber diet for his condition, with no measure of the number of calories consumed, a measurement of his water intake (a key component to the high-fiber diet), nor any mention of any medicines he was taking for which he could be having side-effects. He also mentions how his career and his wealth was destroyed by his condition. However, his conclusions get more confusing from here.

In 1996 he began researching his condition further, and decided the best approach to his condition was to go on a gluten-free, fiber-free, and low-carb diet. He says, "Almost immediately the symptoms of IBS—abdominal bloating, flatulence, and pain—cleared up, but not the constipation or hemorrhoids. They got worse." I am not surprised. My casual research would indicate a gluten-free and low-carb diet lends itself to being lower in calories. Lowering calorie intake and the usual weight-loss that goes with it often helps resolve diabetes symptoms. Also expected, without fiber, bowel movements become less regular.

What is bizarre is his conclusion resulted in a book (with others to follow) in direct contradiction to what he experienced. He writes:
[For my first book, I wrote a] section on constipation because it's by far the most common and troublesome side effect of low-carb/low-fiber diets, including Atkins', South Beach, Protein Power, and others. By the time I finished writing that section, it was almost 300 pages long.
So, he changed his diet from a high-fiber to a fiber-free diet, and his constipation got worse...and somehow fiber was the cause of his constipation? This fails both on what he observed in himself, as well as not following the scientific process and being based on anecdote.

Throughout this process, he claims to have become an expert on forensic nutrition. He also has used his expertise in the computer industry, because he coined a term that not many people have used, thus his results come up first in a search. His claim is doctors suggest doing everything to excess, using this example:
Traditional nutrition seeks out food to improve health using a simplistic approach: If one apple is good for you, then more apples are better. If water is good for you, then more water is better. If fat is bad for you, then no fat is better.
My personal experience with my doctor is about everything in moderation. Eat some fruits and vegetables every day. Eat less of the saturated fats, and replace with olive oil and similar fats. Eat leaner meats. Drink enough water as to not become dehydrated as judged by the color of the urine. My doctor never suggests specific amounts of water or foods, just to try to watch calories and eat a variety. It seems rational advice is to do just that.

The most egregious claim he makes is that his "science" of forensic nutrition is the only one that follows real evidence. He states it this way:
Forensic nutrition is deeply grounded in an existing well-established, undisputed, and well-settled body of science in human anatomy, physiology, biology, anthropology, and medical biochemistry — collectively, fundamental science. This approach precludes personal biases, which are typical for most medical writers. Hence its answers are exacting and specific:
  • If soluble fiber causes diarrhea, then exclude foods rich in soluble fiber instead of wiping out intestinal bacteria with antibiotics just because the bacterial fermentation of excess fiber produces diarrhea-causing substances.

  • If insoluble fiber causes large stools, large stools cause straining, straining causes hemorrhoidal disease, and hemorrhoidal disease causes constipation, then exclude fiber instead of enlarging (bulking up) stools even more in order to overcome constipation.

  • If overhydration causes hypercalcinuria (calcium loss with urine), and hypercalcinuria causes kidney stones, then consume fluids in moderation instead of drinking even more water to wash out the said calcium, and ending up with debilitating osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and osteomalacia on top of kidney stones.

  • If a low-fat diet causes gallstones, then consume fat in moderation to facilitate a timely and regular release of bile from the gallbladder instead of losing your gallbladder to a surgeon's knife.

Nutritional intervention is the next logical step in reversing food-borne diseases, or "nutropathies" (nutritionalpathologies). It combines nutritional hygiene (proper style of eating), nutritional profiling(matching food with age-related physiological needs), and nutritional augmentation (compensating missing micronutrients with basic supplements instead of consuming factory-made foods fortified with iron, folic acid, vitamins A, C, and D, and calcium).
His entire body of research by his own claim is based on his personal experience. That is the opposite of science - it is anecdote. He throws out a quick ad hominem that most medical writers suffer from bias, but that his "science" is so pure that it cannot contain bias. All science has some bias, but the very process of science is designed to reduce and eliminate most of it. Mr. Monastyrsky does not follow any type of bias reducing process.

He then leads into an insinuation that all diarrhea is treated with antibiotics. His claim on insoluble fiber is again based on his personal experience, in which he did not talk about his medications or his fluid intake, thus his single person "study was uncontrolled and does not hold up to research. It also doesn't fit his own results where his constipation got worse after cutting out the fiber in his diet. His claims on water are in regards to extreme water consumption, and not how a doctor would recommend hydration. Finally, he claims that somehow supplementation is superior to fortified foods - when in reality they are nearly identical. Both put nutrients into your body in their pure form instead of being embedded in the food naturally. There wouldn't be much difference, and some studies would suggest fortified foods would better aid absorption of the nutrients over a pill passing through by itself. I also enjoy his word salad of "science-y" sounding terms in the last paragraph as a way to bolster his credibility.

Mr. Monastyrsky puts himself out there as an expert in nutrition based on his personal experience. He further made his own version of nutrition called forensic nutrition which he claims is the only purely settled science, when the science is based mostly on anecdotes. He claims he isn't selling a diet, but then advises buying his books in order to learn how to eat "correctly" - thus selling his own version of a diet. Not only does he promote his poorly constructed evidence, he leaves out several key details and his results contradict his conclusions. He continues to be misled by his own confirmation bias. He doesn't show any data, nor any studies he has published on the area of forensic nutrition or in treating the conditions he claims to be treating.

A few other classic red flags of misinformation includes a clear need to point out all other scientists are wrong, that he is fighting against big organizations like the USDA, FDA, and food manufacturers, that the current approach is "not natural," and that while others are just in it for the money, he is putting out this information as a higher calling to help people. These are all hallmarks of someone trying to prove his superiority above all others as a way to market his "expertise." Mr. Monastyrsky may truly believe in what he is writing, but next week I will discuss some of his other writings which will put that into question. Stay tuned!

by Eric Hall

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