The note at the bottom of this Guardian article ‘the science behind dietary supplements’ states that the website mentioned in the article is “an independent encyclopedia on supplementation and nutrition. It does not accept advertising.” However, nowhere in the article does it mention any other website that the author is involved with. Well, I found one that looked pretty interesting. Read the rest of this entry »
I recently wrote about Dr John Briffa, making reference to his approving comments about a study into arnica as a post-operative aid. I had an idea that homeopathic treatments like arnica relied on the placebo effect and was surprised to see that Briffa’s post described arnica as “effective”. Read the rest of this entry »
Just a very brief post today on ‘brain pills’. I found this in my daily email from the BBC today. The report states that:
Schools and universities may soon need to test students sitting exams for brain improving drugs, experts say.
So, in the near future society will be policing children’s use of substances that are thought to improve brain function. We will administer urine drug tests for cognitive enhancers and regulation may have to be introduced to stop these treatments and future ones from giving people an unfair advantage in examinations and tests. What a contrast with the Durham fish oil ‘trial’. I’m not trying to make the argument that cognitive enhancers should be allowed. Rather, I am trying to comprehend the distinction between (1) schools and their county council actively pushing fish oil pills on kids and (2) the ‘need’ for regulation due to a possibility that children may use a brain-enhancement drug for exam success. Is there some kind of moral difference between fish oil pills and ritalin or aricept – or is it a matter of health and safety? Is it cheating to take ritalin… but not cheating to take fish oil pills? Are fish oil pills assumed to be completely safe and pharmaceutical drugs assumed to be inherently unsafe? Was there even a risk assessment made by Durham County Council before they pushed these pills?
The Irish Association of Nutritional Therapy have written a response to the Cochrane review of antioxidant pills. It’s not very impressive. Holford Watch have posted on it here: IANT and have also attempted to leave a comment (or comments) on the IANT piece. Unfortunately, the IANT appears to be blocking these comments and I haven’t been able to comment either. The following comment was stuck in moderation:
I’m afraid that not everything you have written in this response is true. For example, this: “The final exclusion involves the trials with selenium with no reason as to why. Selenium trials generally show a positive result on the disease in question when supplemented.” is simply untrue – as can be seen if you follow this link: http://holfordwatch.info/2008/04/26/irish-association-of-nutritional-therapy-giving-the-facts-about-the-cochrane-review-of-antioxidant-supplements/
When this comment failed to appear, I fired off a very brief email pointing out just one or two of the mistakes in the IANT piece:
Unfortunately, this piece: http://www.iant.ie/2008/04/18/response-to-the-recent-media-coverage-regarding-antioxidants/ contains several errors. I know that, as nutritional therapists, you will feel compelled to give the public the facts of this case and I am sure that you will amend any errors in your response to Cochrane. I look forward to reading the revised article.
“Many of the studies are with dosages that far exceed what is in most vitamin products.” – this has been covered by Dr Ben Goldacre in his Bad Science column in the Guardian. (1)
“The authors have excluded over 400 trials many of which have a positive outcome and have no deaths so if these were included the findings would be different.” – the study was on mortality. How exactly would those studies that do not report mortality be useful in studying mortality?
“There are no adverse risks with taking vitamin and mineral supplements that are available at the current levels.” – the levels of vitamins and minerals available at many ‘health food’ stores do have associated risks. (See again Ben Goldacre’s comments on available supplements)
“Research in the UK shows that many people are deficient in various nutrients. (4) It also shows that large parts of the population come nowhere near consuming 5 portions of fruit and vegetables especially in the younger populations. There is ample research to show that at least a third of all cancer is linked to diet.” Yes, cancer is linked to diet (i.e., the food we eat – not the vitamin pills we take). However – the evidence in respect of diet and health is for fruit and vegetables, not isolated nutrients sold in pill form.
I have previously asked “What’s Woo Worth?“. My earlier post looked at the profits to be made from herbal medicine, homeopathy and supplements. This post takes a quick look at the evidence for the same categories of woo. Read the rest of this entry »
Former director of the University of Maryland’s alternative medicine centre, R Barker Bausell (featured in the Baltimore Sun on 24th January) has a book out called Snake Oil Science. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
I’ve seen a few websites set up to tackle individuals before – like, say, Sylvia Browne. I don’t think I can recall, however, seeing two websites set up for the same individual. Read the rest of this entry »
Thanks to the magic of del.icio.us, I learnt from David Colquhoun’s blog that Marc-André Gagnon and Joel Lexchin have (through The Public Library of Science) published a paper1 on the ‘Pharmaceutical Promotion Expenditures in the United States’. The page is here and the PDF is here. Read the rest of this entry »
A common excuse for the lack of proper research in CAM is that “only Big Pharma can afford to do research”. Alt-Med apologists like to assert that there’s no money in it (homeopathy, herbal remedies etc) and so they can’t afford to do the research. I think that’s rubbish. Here’s why: Read the rest of this entry »