4

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Are Animal Studies That Bad?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created September 24, 2012 at 12:12 PM

I understand animal studies aren't perfect, but isn't it wrong to disregard all rat and mice studies just because we are not rats or mice?

A39237551dac75eb36335098b0f5fa61

(525)

on September 25, 2012
at 04:28 AM

Jej, along the lines of what AmandaLP said. Animal studies have their place in medical science, but your average Joe and headline hungry journalist doesn't necessarily understand the limitations of animal studies.

A2c38be4c54c91a15071f82f14cac0b3

(12682)

on September 25, 2012
at 02:22 AM

haha I'm glad you both agree on that! JeJ- there's a rat in my life as well, her name's Persephone. Working with them in a lab seems like it would cool.

518bce04b12cd77741237e1f61075194

(11577)

on September 24, 2012
at 08:54 PM

I love rats so much, another cute-rats lover here! I had two wonderful pet boys named Cam and Mitchel (modern family, anyone?) and worked with them in labs for several years.

B0fe7b5a9a197cd293978150cbd9055f

(8938)

on September 24, 2012
at 08:02 PM

Heh you must be the first person to agree with me that rats are cute. You can ramble all you want I like your point of view :D, thank you!!

B3173217a49b5b0116078775a17eb21d

(11488)

on September 24, 2012
at 02:58 PM

I never buy products that aren't tested on animals. What would I do if some accidently got splashed into a puppy's eye?

B0fe7b5a9a197cd293978150cbd9055f

(8938)

on September 24, 2012
at 01:41 PM

I guess, but if you combine the apparent safety of many human inventions (sugar, salt, several supplements or processed foods) with animal studies I think you can get much further than disregarding all those statistics.

4b5be253ac1981c690689cab7e4bf06d

(3043)

on September 24, 2012
at 01:32 PM

It is one thing to say "rats have this response to X drug, lets now try it in primates, and now humans." it is another to say "rats have this response, so all humans should do this."

518bce04b12cd77741237e1f61075194

(11577)

on September 24, 2012
at 12:52 PM

Wouldn't using them pre-clinical mean you would definitely not want to completely ignore them? Or are you saying that your average joe journalist should ignore them?

518bce04b12cd77741237e1f61075194

(11577)

on September 24, 2012
at 12:51 PM

I wonder if anyone is going to go off about the difference between mice vs rats in studies (particularly in terms of diet). Very popular arguing point in the lab I used to work in, haha.

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6 Answers

6
32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41757)

on September 24, 2012
at 12:18 PM

Rodents eat a diet very different to our own, doesn't seem like they would be ideal models for humans. I think they're ideal for researchers because of condensed lifetimes. How similar can our digestive systems, metabolic tendencies, endocrine systems be? I think a more ideal model for humans would be pigs, but pigs live an order of magnitude longer than rodents, studies that take a couple years, would likely take decades in other higher order animals.

4
Be1dbd31e4a3fccd4394494aa5db256d

(17969)

on September 24, 2012
at 08:44 PM

Animal experiments aren't a reflection of the healthy human, and aren't even a reflection of the healthy animal most of the time. These animals are usually fed a processed "chow" diet with synthetic nutrients, a low variety of nutrients, low quantity of some nutrients, and aren't able to do proper exercise. This radically changes how their bodies function in response to nutrients which are said to be harmful to them.

Case in point: teh ebil high fat rodent murder diet! It makes them fat and gives them all sorts of metabolic diseases. Its proper function is to study these diseases and try to see what prevents them, and yet some people are just so convinced that if you can kill a rat with X nutrient or food or diet plan then it's always going to be like that and we need to sound the alarm bells for humans. That is usually premature in my view.

Exercise and abundant fermentable fiber are often absent on these diets and can go a long way in preventing metabolic syndrome http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21736742

A certain amount of omega-3 fatty acids can prevent insulin resistance from high fat intake in mice due to well-understood metabolic regulatory mechanisms http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20861209

Cocoa can change the functioning of some enzymes like exercise can, it is an exercise mimetic in a way http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15850966

They give them minerals in the food but they don't give them enough of the right minerals http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15461272

It is generally accepted that rat fructose metabolism is different than human fructose metabolism, but what if rats in a lab exercised? Then fructose doesn't appear to be anywhere near as bad for their livers http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20946638 And who is to say that a half dozen other inventions wouldn't improve things further in other areas too? Pubmed is full of the stuff http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16636461 (this is all just to make points I'm not going to spend more time finding all of the references)

Ever seen the exchange below?

"The hypercholesterolemic rabbit, oh noes! Cholesterol kills u!"

"Nuh uh they is herbivores stoopid"

That is a valid criticism, there is nowhere near the effect on serum cholesterol from dietary cholesterol in humans as there is in rabbits, and it is highly variable. However cholesterol-fed rabbit experiments cause me to doubt that rabbits are particularly adversely affected by eating large amounts of cholesterol in their natural habitat. This is because there have been numerous experiments that had a large preventative effect on the atherosclerotic progression of cholesterol-fed rabbits.

Nitric oxide precursors are quite protective http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/96/4/1282 and knowing what we do about NO we can surmise that this would have been even more useful given a foew more factors like exercise, various polyphenols, and other NO-boosting interventions. L-arginine is the just the raw material after all.

Fish oil http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0735109788904780

Magnesium http://atvb.ahajournals.org/content/10/5/732.full.pdf+html

Cocoa antioxidants and other nutrients help http://gsdl.sld.cu/collect/chocolat/index/assoc/HASH01c7.dir/doc.pdf

What if you put them all together? What if you put them together and added 20 other things like many of us are doing? Would rabbits even get any atherosclerosis from being fed cholesterol? And then what business would we have to say that if humans did all of these preventative things from a young age that cholesterol would even matter? That's an experiment I want to see. Mr. Hoppity Hop Happy Bunny Health Club And Cholesterol Buffet.

Granted, this is oftentimes the same problem for humans eating a SAD lab human diet. Human trials are not necessarily good because they're human trials. The proper human diet contains a wide variety of all sorts of foods and nutrients, essential and non-essential, and enough of them so that the body isn't left wanting for materials to do the things that it wants to do, like transport nutrients safely through the body so that they don't misbehave.

I think that animal experiments can shed light on mechanisms of pathology and nutrition for prevention of pathology, but they can't really tell us what is necessarily unhealthy, because you never know if there is some nutrient or lifestyle factor you missed that changes the whole picture. And it's not perfect for proving that nutrient prevent disease, there is no guarantee that any particular nutrient is going to work in humans because it worked for animals, and especially humans who have impaired utilization of some nutrients due to metabolic syndrome, but these little experiments justify bigger ones in humans and give us something to bet on until the humans trials have been done. It's an odds game, if people want to avoid palmitic acid because it has killed some rats in the past then that's their assumption, but I have decided to befriend him. If rats are harmed by something and there is no indication anywhere in the literature that this can be wholly prevented, then perhaps it's best to take the side of caution.

4
B3173217a49b5b0116078775a17eb21d

(11488)

on September 24, 2012
at 12:27 PM

It's partly because there are so-many of them, and that they all seem to show contradictory information. Not only can you not compare the rodent studies to humans (because humans are not rats), but you often cannot compare them to the results of other rodent studies because of the amount of genetic manipulation involved.

There is obviously a role for mouse-science in establishing hypotheses, but any time you see an animal study used as the only piece of evidence used to justify some nutritional approach or another, then you know that there is a genuine lack of real science supporting the argument.

3
A2c38be4c54c91a15071f82f14cac0b3

(12682)

on September 24, 2012
at 07:41 PM

I think animal studies, such as ones on rats (the animal I'll focus on in my answer), should not be casually discarded. Yes, rats do posses physiological characteristics different than humans. For example, rats can produce vitamin C and digest phytase, perform de novo lipogenesis of carbohydrates to fat at a greater rate than humans, and they don't live as long as humans. They're also cuter than humans (perhaps not applicable, also totally subjective. Whatever).

Still, I think despite many differences which can of course be important, rats and humans are very similar in enough ways that they can be very helpful subjects in the health sciences. Not the least of which is in using knockout rodents to determine the functionality of specific genes. I also think rats can be really useful in figuring out the processes behind food-body interactions. So as a general rule, I think animal studies can be really good for determining mechanisms involved in health.

As far as diet studies on rats where you feed rats a certain thing and observe the effect, I think these can be problematic and erroneous so you of course shouldn't rest your theory on them, but I think many times the effects of food X on rats and humans will generally be comparable. In the absence of human studies, I consider rat studies capable of lending some amount of support to a particular hypothesis. If someone wants to cast them aside as worth nothing, they should provide some sort of specific reasoning (e.g. "hey man, studies giving rats dairy products are invalid because all rats are casein intolerant, yo! I read that on wikipdedia or something").

Anyway, I'll cut this short since I'm starting to ramble, but it seems like rat studies (and other animal studies) are often viewed as worthless and I don't agree. It's especially a strange view when coming from someone who uses the "paleolithic man/woman ate X and didn't eat Y, so X is good and Y is bad" type of logic for food consumption. I consider both absolutely worth something, just limited in value for various reasons.

518bce04b12cd77741237e1f61075194

(11577)

on September 24, 2012
at 08:54 PM

I love rats so much, another cute-rats lover here! I had two wonderful pet boys named Cam and Mitchel (modern family, anyone?) and worked with them in labs for several years.

B0fe7b5a9a197cd293978150cbd9055f

(8938)

on September 24, 2012
at 08:02 PM

Heh you must be the first person to agree with me that rats are cute. You can ramble all you want I like your point of view :D, thank you!!

A2c38be4c54c91a15071f82f14cac0b3

(12682)

on September 25, 2012
at 02:22 AM

haha I'm glad you both agree on that! JeJ- there's a rat in my life as well, her name's Persephone. Working with them in a lab seems like it would cool.

1
510bdda8988ed0d4b0ec0b738b4edb73

(20898)

on September 24, 2012
at 09:08 PM

Everything needs to be evaluated in a context. If aresnic kills rats, it'll likely kill humans, so we can do some inference there. If animal protein gives rabbits (vegetarians) cancer, I'd argue that there is no valid inference there.

You can't accept nor dismiss all animal tests outright. You need to look at what the test was, how what their testing can be connected to humans, and then how they scale that from animals to humans.

There's no one-size fits all, you need to read the study and understand it's successes and limitations. This is hard, and this is what science is all about. Unless you're a well trained scientist, you'll do it wrong too. I could do a whole rant about our science education in this country, but I'll stop here.

1
A39237551dac75eb36335098b0f5fa61

(525)

on September 24, 2012
at 12:26 PM

It's probably better to completely ignore animal studies. They have their place in medical research, and that's during pre-clinical phase. They are useful in getting ideas of what might happen in humans, but one can't extrapolate from animal studies into humans.

518bce04b12cd77741237e1f61075194

(11577)

on September 24, 2012
at 12:52 PM

Wouldn't using them pre-clinical mean you would definitely not want to completely ignore them? Or are you saying that your average joe journalist should ignore them?

B0fe7b5a9a197cd293978150cbd9055f

(8938)

on September 24, 2012
at 01:41 PM

I guess, but if you combine the apparent safety of many human inventions (sugar, salt, several supplements or processed foods) with animal studies I think you can get much further than disregarding all those statistics.

4b5be253ac1981c690689cab7e4bf06d

(3043)

on September 24, 2012
at 01:32 PM

It is one thing to say "rats have this response to X drug, lets now try it in primates, and now humans." it is another to say "rats have this response, so all humans should do this."

B3173217a49b5b0116078775a17eb21d

(11488)

on September 24, 2012
at 02:58 PM

I never buy products that aren't tested on animals. What would I do if some accidently got splashed into a puppy's eye?

A39237551dac75eb36335098b0f5fa61

(525)

on September 25, 2012
at 04:28 AM

Jej, along the lines of what AmandaLP said. Animal studies have their place in medical science, but your average Joe and headline hungry journalist doesn't necessarily understand the limitations of animal studies.

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