By Michael A. Smith, MD
The study’s authors outrageously concluded, “We see little justification for the general and widespread use of dietary supplements.”1
The supplements they mentioned included iron, vitamin B6, folic acid, magnesium, zinc, and copper. Since the nutrient use in the study was “self-reported” – not measured - the exact amounts, quality, and specific frequency of use were all unknown. Yet despite this lack of critical information, they hacked together dangerous conclusions and fed them to the big media engine for mass distribution.
Also worth noting is the suspicious timing of this “study”, being released just as the FDA is looking to strangle the supplement industry with new regulations under their NDI guidelines. Yes, this is likely more than a coincidence.
A Suspiciously Flawed Anti-Supplement StudyThis study was clearly assembled as a means of negatively manipulating the public opinion of nutritional supplements. The research paper conveniently kicks off with an introduction fueled by comments drawn from older well-known anti-supplement studies. Of course, all of the positive studies weren’t mentioned at all.
The supplement industry has already responded to the majority of those old, flawed negative studies. Of course, this did not prevent the authors of this study from bringing them up again to warm up their argument against supplement use.
Here’s a quick summary of some of the study’s major flaws. Life Extension scientists are putting together a longer, formal rebuttal that will be published shortly:
- The authors did not confirm, through blood testing for instance, if the study participants were using supplements or not. Considering that the authors believe iron supplementation was one of the causes of the increased mortality, checking iron blood levels would seem like a good idea, but – of course - they didn’t do that.
- The study attempted to compare two different groups- those that were supplement users and those that were not. However, there were so many differences between the groups that drawing conclusions was completely absurd. Basically, they compared two groups that weren’t exactly the same. With so many differences, it’s difficult to draw any conclusions from the data. This is known as “study heterogeneity”, and calls the conclusions they arrived at into serious question.
- The study used questionnaires to gather data. Questionnaires are notoriously unreliable in collecting information, especially when they arrive at statistical conclusions that fall well-within the standard margin of error. Additionally, the authors did not even try to verify whether “supplement users” actually took supplements at all.
- In the study, supplement use wasn’t correlated to baseline pre-existing diseases like cancer and heart disease.
- The authors did not appropriately follow the study participants closely enough to make the sort of conclusions they’ve boldly reported. The authors even admit: “We did not have data regarding nutritional status or detailed information of supplements used.”
- About double the number of supplement users took non-bioidentical synthetic hormones versus non-supplement users. Synthetic hormones like Provera® and Premarin® are well-known to have adverse consequences. The fact that the group using supplements took these dangerous hormones at double the rate, adds to the discrepancy between the groups.
Bad Science is Dangerous MedicineThe Alliance for Natural Health has brought up some important points and additional questions for us to consider2. For instance, a “multivitamin” can mean many different things, and this term’s meaning has changed tremendously over the 19 years during which this “study” was conducted. Were they high quality multivitamins? Were the ingredients synthetic or natural? How much of each nutrient was taken? Were they really taken at all? How good is anyone’s memory in describing what took place over so many years?
Here’s the bottom line: This study is not only flawed, but it’s also dangerous. It’s being used by the media and the mainstream medical establishment to discredit the use of nutritional supplements by using poor data, bad analysis, and emotionally charged headlines.
Due to the recent media attention this study has generated, Life Extension will be posting a more detailed analysis of this study in the next couple of days, so please stay tuned. In the meantime, if you have any health-related questions, feel free to contact our advisory department at email@example.com or call 1-800-226-2370 for personalized answers to any of your questions or concerns.
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- ARCH INTERN MED/VOL 171 (NO. 18), OCT 10, 2011
- http://www.anh-usa.org/shame-on-ama-archives-of-internal-medicine/ [accessed 10/12/2011]
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