Recently, there have been a few negative reports on food supplements. The BMJ Calcium Study (PDF) was reported by the Press Association as finding that “Calcium supplements may increase the risk of heart attacks among older women”. The Press Association ended their statement with “Anyone who has been advised by their doctor to take calcium supplements to protect their bones should not stop doing so in light of this study alone without medical advice”, which seems sensible. The BBC News and Daily Telegraph reports also include this statement (which was made by Judy O’Sullivan, a cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation).
The BBC News, Times and Daily Mail reports also include a mention for HSIS. These were the only news reports that I could find on Google that referred to the Health Supplements Information Service. Except for Forbes, who seem to think that HSIS are sponsored by Big Pharma (yes, they really do say that HSIS is funded by pharmaceutical companies). Edit: this has now been confimed by Coracle (see comment #1).
The BBC News report said:
Pamela Mason, nutritionist and spokeswoman for the Health Supplements Information Service (HSIS), which is funded by several leading supplement manufacturers, said the study was small and had a high drop out rate.
I wondered what the point of that statement was. Did Pamela Mason consider that the study was too small to yield statistically significant results? She hasn’t actually said so, but what else would be the point of stating that the study was small? Can complaining that a particular study “was small” be a convenient way of distracting from the authors’ findings?
The Daily Mail had a slightly expanded quote which included this:
Dr Mason said the calcium intake in this study of women, averaging 800mg a day, was above the recommended UK rates of 700mg a day.
Erm… doesn’t this mean that the participants didn’t need to take Calcium supplements. That’s not very convenient for leading supplement manufacturers is it? Customers don’t need to buy their products as their intakes are (on average) already above the recommended levels as quoted by Pamela Mason. Professor Ian Reid (named as one of the study authors) is quoted in the Mail as saying that healthy older women “randomly” taking extra calcium had increased rates of heart attack. Also not very convenient for leading supplement manufacturers, but at least Ian Reid doesn’t work for HSIS. Funny how those in the alt-med industry sometimes (OK, often) appear to be closer in spirit to Spin Doctors than Medical Doctors. Pamela Mason is not the worst supplements industry spokesperson I’ve heard of, though. See here for more on another (ex-?) HSIS spokesperson.
I did say “reports”, didn’t I? Well, the Mayo clinic has released a couple of pieces recently. Hormonal Dietary Supplements can, apparently, promote the progression of prostate cancer and decrease the effectiveness of anti-cancer drugs and Mayo have also released a tip-sheet, which informs us that featured articles from the January issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings include the effects of antioxidant supplements on cancer. For the study, two authors reviewed all randomized trials on antioxidants for cancer prevention(1968-2005) and identified 12 clinical trials with a total eligible population of 104,196. The following findings are from this study:
*Overall, antioxidant supplementation did not reduce the risk of cancer.
*Beta carotene supplementation was actually found to increase the risk of smoking-related cancers, as well as cancer mortality, and thus should be avoided, especially by tobacco users.
*Vitamin E appeared to have no beneficial or harmful effects.
*Selenium supplementation was found to lower the risk of cancer in men (not in women), but the number of trials were few and further research is required. A large trial assessing the effect of selenium in lowering the risk of prostate cancer is currently underway.
Also from the Mayo Clinic, we have another snippet: a Q&A on chronic fatigue. Kenneth Berge, MD concludes his article by saying that at this time, “there is insufficient evidence of benefit to recommend any specific dietary or herbal supplements as a treatment for chronic fatigue”. This next link isn’t directly related but some supplements are, of course, advertised for their supposed energy-giving properties. Take B Vitamins, for example.