Tiger White PR: Humbug

August 12, 2009 at 4:08 pm (Media, Nutritionism, Supplements) (, , , , , )

Here is a list of press releases from Tiger White PR. I took a look at a few of them and found one for Boots that promoted Coenzyme Q10 under the heading “energy release” and with the claim that it could offer us “a helping hand maintaining energy levels when we’re feeling tired after lots of late nights out”. The same press release also recommended vitamin D for “winter blues”, a mixture of gingko biloba and vitamins for the immune system, probiotics for overindulgence, and antioxidants for “toxic overload”.

Energy release: Coenzyme Q10 is involved in metabolism, but that does not mean that it makes us feel more energetic or aid “vitality”. This claim has already been addressed by David Colquhoun at dcscience.net: Boots hit a new low in ethical standards. Colquhoun actually went as far as to say that the claims that CoQ10 could boost energy levels were “as bad a bit of nutribollocks as I’ve ever seen. It is based on the confusion between two totally different meanings of the word “energy”.” I don’t think I can add to the points made at dcscience.net so I will move on to the next part of the press release.

Winter blues: it is claimed in the press release that “Often over Christmas the long dark nights and the stress of last minute Christmas shopping can sometimes leave us feeling blue.” Their recommendation is to take vitamin D pills. I checked Pubmed for reviews, searching for vitamin D and mood. I found two recent reviews that were relevant. I was unable to access the full text of either review, so am reporting the findings based on what is in the abstracts. This is far from ideal*. The first looked at older adults and stated that “several studies suggest an association between hypovitaminosis D and […] depression” and concluded that “Although additional studies are needed to examine the impact of supplementation on cognition and mood disorders, given the known health benefits of vitamin D, we recommend greater supplementation in older adults.” Although the authors recommend greater supplementation in older adults, they did so because of the known health benefits of vitamin D. They recognised that additional studies are required for vitamin D supplementation in mood disorders. The second review looked at vitamin D and mood disorders in women, concluding that “This review indicates a possible biochemical mechanism occurring between vitamin D and mood disorders affecting women, warranting further studies of these variables using rigorous methodologies.” Possible mechanism, further studies warranted. There’s nothing in the abstract of this review (or the preceding one) that seems to point to vitamin D supplementation for mood being clear-cut. And one wonders about the mechanism by which vitamin D can counteract “the stress of last minute Christmas shopping”.

Immune system: there are one or two studies that look at the effects of specific ginkgo extracts (EGb 761 seems to crop up fairly regularly) on parameters of immune function and I have good news for you. If you are a stressed rat, then ginkgo extracts may stimulate your immune system. I’m not sure whether humans will see the same effect from ginkgo supplementation as I cannot find any papers that discuss studies looking at the effects of ginkgo on the human immune system. But any stressed rats reading this might think it’s worth trying. The Boots product also contains vitamins C and D. As for vitamin C, this review [abstract-only again, I’m afraid] notes that “a vitamin C deficiency results in a reduced resistance against certain pathogens whilst a higher supply enhances several immune system parameters” but goes on to state that “Supplementation of vitamin C is most effective in cases of physical strain or insufficient intake of the vitamin” so unless you are deficient (which should be an unlikely given the availability of fruit, vegetables, and fortified foods containing this vitamin) or are “exposed to short periods of extreme physical or cold stress or both” (e.g., marathon runners and skiers) then it’s unlikely that vitamin C will ‘boost your immune system’ or help prevent or treat a winter cold (see also this PDF: the full text of a Cochrane review of vitamin C for colds, a plain language summary is also available).

Overindulgence: the press release recommends a probiotic with multivitamins for those who load their plate with turkey and forgo brussels sprouts. Quite how a probiotic supplement will make up for an excess consumption of food is unclear to me (I suspect it is also unclear to the PR company and probably the manufacturers of the supplement). The press release also says that you may not get your five-a-day (of fruit and vegetables) if you stuff yourself with turkey. While this may be true, vitamin supplements are not a substitute for a healthy diet. Manufacturers even have to state this on the label: this PDF is a European Directive (2002/46, for those who are interested in such things) and Article 6.3 (d) is relevant here. The supplement also contains lutein which, according to the press release, will “help maintain eye health”. A recent adjudication of the ASA may be of interest: http://bit.ly/oITdH; in which the ASA upheld complaints against a product claimed to protect the eye. The ASA “considered that, in order to substantiate the claim, we would need to see robust trials conducted on humans that showed that 10 mg supplementation with lutein, the level found in Eyewise, protected eye health in normal, healthy adults […] noted that none of the studies assessed the efficacy of lutein when taken in supplement form […] considered that it was not safe to assume that a supplement containing lutein would be absorbed and utilised by the body in the same way as naturally occurring dietary lutein […] considered that we had not seen evidence that demonstrated that the lutein formula contained in Eyewise was bio-available and would protect eye health, and because of that we concluded that the claim was misleading”.

The opening paragraph of the press release reads as follows:

The festive season can sometimes wreak havoc on our health but Boots can help you ward off winter sniffles, relieve post Christmas bloated bellies or simply keep energy levels up when it’s glum outside and there’s another celebratory party to go to!

I would argue that Boots can’t help you ward off winter sniffles, relieve post-Christmas bloated bellies or keep energy levels up.

More

*It is difficult to describe a paper that you haven’t actually read. Relying on an abstract is dodgy and I would prefer to read the full text of a paper. Unfortunately, it is not always possible (or practical) to do so. Sometimes, the full paper will be paywalled and I do not intend to pay $30-35 to Elsevier or Current Psychiatry Reports in order to read a paper just so I can write a blog post on dodgy press releases.

I have looked at just one press release here, but there’s a list of press releases here: on responsesource.com (I counted 5 press releases just for elderberries to ward of winter or protect the immune system).

4 Comments

  1. mike said,

    If you are interested in vitamin D you should take a look at http://www.vitaminD3world.com The Canadian Cancer Society now recommends that everyone take vitamin D to prevent cancer. The site has good summaries of the data and offers a new preparation of vitamin D in a micro-pill formulation. The pills have been formulated with cellulose which absorbs water very quickly. This ensures that the pill breaks up very quickly to provide for maximum absorption. The micro pill is tiny and tasteless. Many vitamin D pills on the market have very poor dissolution properties resulting in poor absorption.
    The site also offers to supply customers with a free supply of 400IU for their children and it also has a good newsletter.

  2. Nick said,

    Regarding vitamin D… You’d have been better off searching for “Seasonal Affective Disorder” or “SAD” or just “Depression” rather than just “mood”. There is actually quite a large number of positive studies — there may well be something in it…

  3. jdc325 said,

    @Nick: “there may well be something in it…”
    I think that is about right – there does seem to be an association between vitamin D levels and mood, although the evidence for supplementation of vitamin D to improve mood does not yet seem to be conclusive. (I still don’t see why vitamin D is recommended as a remedy for stress caused by last-minute Christmas shopping though!)

  4. Nick said,

    There’s nothing like some ‘creative marketing’ to flog your product! Vitamin D is very interesting though; thousands of small but interesting studies, and generally with very positive outcomes. There are some large DBRCT studies ongoing at the moment so hopefully conclusive results, one way or the other, will be forthcoming in a year or so. Personally, I’ll keep taking it regardless – luverly stuff but as this represents a study of n=1 I wont go into detail!

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