Awhile back a “new” study condemning the use of vitamins and ineffective and potentially dangerous generated widespread headlines throughout the mainstream media in the United States and Europe. Apparently generating headlines was the sole intention, as the study is neither new, scientific nor objective. Since then, we have seen numerous similar headlines about misleading studies aimed at scaring people about safe and effective alternatives to dangerous, expensive and largely ineffective mainstream drugs.
The “study” was led by Serbian scientist and “visiting researcher” at Copenhagen University Hospital, Goran Bjelakovic, whose name is now synonymous with vitamin meta-analyses (studies of other studies) which appear to show that vitamin supplements either don’t work or end up increasing your risk of death. Two similar Bjelakovic “studies” on vitamin supplements, in October 2004 and February 2007, resulted in similar outbursts of negative international headlines.
Upon closer examination, the flaws in the so-called study are apparent. First of all, in evaluating studies for inclusion, the authors omitted a massive 405 potentially eligible studies because there were no deaths in the studies and another 69 studies were excluded because they weren’t randomized controlled trials.
In other words, instead of conducting an honest review of all the studies, the authors arbitrarily eliminated all studies in which vitamins prevented mortality and kept people alive – leaving only the studies in which people died from various causes. Most of the trials used pertain to already sick people being given very high dose, synthetic, isolated nutrients for relatively short periods – they therefore have no relevance to the vast majority of vitamin consumers.
When you select or reject studies on criteria that only mean something to statisticians, and ignore important things like duration, how long the study ran for — which ranged from 28 days to 14 years — your findings are immediately meaningless. Even the huge difference in dose of supplements between different studies was not deemed important – for example, Vitamin E ranging from 10 to 5000 units daily.
The studies in the latest meta-analysis not only relied on synthetic forms of vitamins, in most instances they relied on very high dosages of pharmaceutical-grade, synthetic forms of supplements manufactured by the pharmaceutical industry. The dosages used are typically much greater than those recommended on the labels of food or dietary supplement products. In most countries, the dosages used in the trials would be considered ´medicinal´ by regulatory authorities and therefore would not legally be allowed for food or dietary supplements.
As a result, these studies actually apply only to synthetic forms of vitamins produced by the pharmaceutical industry in amounts much larger than most consumers would ever take. The authors of this latest Cochrane review state: “The present review does not assess antioxidant supplements for treatment of specific diseases (tertiary prevention), antioxidant supplements for patients with demonstrated specific needs of antioxidants, or the effects of antioxidants contained in fruits or vegetables.” This shows that the study has no relevance to natural sources of vitamins and minerals or antioxidants sourced from plants (e.g. flavonoids, anthocyanins, sulforaphanes, salvestrols/resveratrol, etc.), which are included in many of the leading-edge natural health supplements claiming potent antioxidant activity.
Make no mistake, this isn’t research. This is a re-analysis of studies that have been conducted and reported on previously, by a group of men with a known axe to grind, who have never produced a study favorable to supplements, which is itself statistically unlikely unless you have a bias.
There is extensive scientific evidence that higher intakes of vitamins in the forms and combinations consumed in the diet substantially reduce risk of killer diseases such as cancer and heart disease. In fact, it is this research (some of which is referenced in the introduction to both the JAMA and Cochrane papers) that has stimulated pharmaceutical companies to undertake research on pharmaceutical-grade, synthetic forms of supplements, which they manufacture. As is often the case when pharmaceutical companies try to synthesize or unnaturally isolate compounds found in nature so they can patent and profit from them, their synthetic version have been largely disappointing.
A good source to see why their results have largely failed can be seen in this paper by the Alliance for Natural Health:
As a final note on the study: although presented as a “new”, the study is really no more than a rehash of a paper by the very same authors, published last year (February 2007) in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Extensive international media followed the 2007 JAMA paper, including a front page articles in major newspapers telling consumers that vitamin pills could cause early death. The “new” study review relies on 67 of the 68 studies used in the JAMA paper.
The world pharmaceutical empire is a trillion dollar juggernaut whose continued profits depends on continued illness as well as a continued monopoly on approved medications and suppression of any alternatives which might provide prevention and treatment more effectively, more safely and less expensively – such as those found in nature. And so there are a trillion reasons why we see the repeated headlines about misleading and flawed studies like this one on vitamins, minerals and other natural supplements that represent billions of dollars in potential lost profits due to improved health and competition with patented drugs.
The best possible model for profits would be a monopoly on side-effect laden drugs which lead to complications requiring yet more side effect laden drugs in a never ending cycle so that by the time a person reaches the age of 65 they take an average of 15 prescribed and over the counter medications daily when it all started with one or two conditions that could have been treated naturally. A great model for profits and a horrible one for health and humanity.
The bottom line for all those who reject such a model: don’t stop taking your vitamins, minerals and other supplements – especially those derived from natural sources which insure adequate amounts of daily nutrition vital to your optimum health.