Guest Article

CRN on silencing the critics with a dose of research

Related tags Prostate cancer Dietary supplement Vitamin

A faulty study inking omega-3s to prostate cancer risk did some damage in 2013.
A faulty study inking omega-3s to prostate cancer risk did some damage in 2013.
These are confusing times to be a dietary supplement consumer – one day, a particular nutrient is touted as a magic bullet, and the next it’s a waste of money. In this constant news cycle we live in, consumers are left even more puzzled about what’s really good for them. As the year comes to a close, it’s worth examining three of the major dietary supplement health stories in the press that targeted some of the industry’s most popular products and led to consumer whiplash.

Keep taking your multi

A recent editorial from Annals of Internal Medicine​ questioned whether consumers should give up on their multivitamins. Unfortunately, the writers missed three key points. First, most Americans don’t get all the nutrients they need from their diets alone, and science keeps reaffirming that adequate levels of all these vitamins and minerals are critical. If for no other reason, multivitamins fill in those nutrient gaps.

Second, the research also keeps reaffirming just how safe the multivitamin is. None of the highlighted studies raised any safety questions for multivitamins.

And third, multis have benefits beyond just good nutrition. Recent findings from the Physicians’ Health Study II indicate benefits for both reduction of risk of cancer and cataracts. It would be nice if the research specific to cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline was also positive, but that would be an added benefit. The inability of vitamins to be a cure-all is not a reason to throw out your vitamins.

Don't throw out your omega-3 supplements either

Steve Mister CRN
Steve Mister, CRN

Earlier this year, consumers were treated to a similar alarm for omega-3 fatty acids and the risk of prostate cancer. A widely reported study purported to show increased incidence of prostate cancer from omega-3s. The study was observational so, by design, it could not demonstrate a causal relationship, but more fatally, the study didn’t even ask where the omega-3 levels it observed came from – whole fish or supplements?  So the focus on supplements was never supported by the data. Even more critically, the research failed to consider that many of the subjects may have increased their omega-3 intake because​ they were at risk of prostate cancer, rather than the other way around. And it ignored the fact that populations around the world with the greatest omega-3 intakes have the lowest prostate cancer risks.

Keep that calcium and vitamin D regimen, too

Lastly, calcium and vitamin D, long promoted to help build strong bones and to reduce the risk of falls and fractures from osteoporosis, came under attack for alleged cardiovascular risk. Again, the media uproar was misplaced, but fanned by some prominent researchers with less than stellar data. In addition to design flaws in that research, the link to cardiovascular risk doesn’t hold up. Three separate studies also published recently reaffirm calcium and vitamin D’s safety, even with respect to cardiovascular disease.  And the intake data continue to demonstrate that many of us, particularly women, don’t get enough calcium and vitamin D from food alone. So the reduction in risk of falls and fractures should trump any supposed vascular risk.

Unfortunately, the way news is reported, the industry is left to play “catch up” in these situations, always reacting to the negative media and trying put out fires. Hopefully, these issues with three of the bestselling products in the market will spur more companies to do more research on the safety and benefits of their products. Having a replenishing ground spring of positive research that demonstrates the role of supplements for good health will silence the critics much better than trying to debunk the study du jour. My hope for 2014 is it will change the question from “Are you still taking that supplement?”​ to “Why isn’t everyone taking that supplement?”

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