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October 13, 2011
Supplement Bashing Continues To Fulfill The Needs of Interest Groups

A recently published study this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that multivitamins, iron and copper supplements, may increase mortality rates in older women. The study has been slammed by industry groups stating the conclusions are nothing more than scientific reductionism.

"This study is a classic example of scientific reductionism being used to fulfil a particular need,"said Robert Verkerk PhD, the Alliance for Natural Health International (ANHI) executive and scientific director.

"In this case, it's supplement bashing...Our view is that the self-reporting questionnaires, and lack of any supporting data on nutrient status of the study's subjects, means that the majority of the trends emerging from the adjusted data on which the study's conclusions were based are likely to be anomalous."

Dr Verkerk pointed to the positive findings for calcium supplementation as, "findings from much more robust studies".

Supplement bashing is nothing new. Many biased pharma funded researchers have been ousted from their sheltered offices for failing to keep their covers under wrap when attempted to dismiss antioxidant research.

Writing in the December 2010 issue of Nutrition Bulletin, Helena Gibson-Moore's mini meta analysis concluded there was insufficient evidence backing the efficacy of weight loss supplements, and therefore should not be recommended by health professionals to the overweight and obese. She concluded that pharmaceutical interventions were more likely to yield positive results.

A year before that, a study linked folic acid and vitamin B12 supplements with higher risks of cancer was found to be misleading.

Unanswered Questions

The UK Health Food Manufacturers' Association (HFMA) scientific adviser, Dr Michele Sadler questioned the causality highlighted by the researchers.

"This type of study only demonstrates an association and does not tell us whether taking supplements caused these particular effects," said Dr Sadler.

"The study has many other limitations including the unknown, longer term health status of women taking the supplements, which is more likely to be linked to mortality than the supplements themselves."

"It's a case of which comes first, the chicken or the egg, and raises the question of how many women were taking the supplements because of ill health. How such a wide range of essential nutrients is supposed to have these effects is another unanswered question."


Dr Verkerk said the research was flawed in design.

"Another very important point is that many factors were not controlled for, and these likely contributed to uncontrolled sources of variation and confounding that were simply ignored. Among these is the crucial issue of the forms of nutrients taken, none of which were recorded in questionnaires."

"For example, there are several studies that suggest that long-term use of high doses of synthetic vitamin E, beta-carotene and folic acid may increase the risk of death, these generally having at least some plausible mechanisms. But, where the natural forms are consumed, especially where these nutrients are obtained from dietary sources, quite the reverse is found."

He said the researchers had, "knowingly, or unknowingly, played into the hands of the pharmaceutical industry, the single biggest contributor to, and controller of, medical research."

The University of Minnesota researchers led by Jaakko Mursu, PhD, found, "several commonly used dietary vitamin and mineral supplements, including multivitamins, vitamins B6, and folic acid, as well as minerals iron, magnesium, zinc, and copper, were associated with a higher risk of total mortality."


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