Monday, February 14, 2011

FDA Bans Most Natural Supplements

Is Margaret Hamburg's recent column in funny or beyond sad?  You be the judge.

"The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced today that they are banning 88% of all natural supplements from the market “for the good of the consumer”.

“There are man made pharmaceuticals that work as well or better than many of these herbal remedies”, said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.  “We simply want what’s right for the consumer, the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry!”

Hamburg pointed out that Lipitor and Crestor are just as good as garlic and bee pollen at lowering bad cholesterol levels.

“We can’t take garlic off the market as a flavor enhancer”, Hamburg continued.  “But we don’t want them making outrageous claims, even if they’re true, about its health benefits“.

Hamburg also said that the anti-arthritis mixture of Glucosamine and Chondritin will be banned from shelves as there are other arthritis treatments and pain relievers currently in development that are nearly as effective.

“We have vital industries to maintain!” Hamburg insisted.  “These supplements are destroying the stock market!”

Hamburg said she practices what she preaches by eating fatty foods and taking cholesterol lowering medications each day."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fish Oil Rises Over Multivitamins in Popularity, or Does it? reports that their survey suggests that fish oil has surpassed multivitamins in popularity.

Guess again.

Mainstream news sources, including the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, have begun to rehash the survey’s results, heralding fish oil as supplanting multivitamins.

What the newsfeeds fail to account for, however, is that the statistics are somewhat skewed by the poll group. The participants of the survey were only those who subscribe to ConsumerLab’s e-newsletter, and thus more likely to be frequent and multiple supplement users. The survey may not adequately represent the overall U.S. supplement consumer market.

According to Nutrition Business Journal figures, fish oil sales for 2009 reached $976 million, whereas multivitamin sales commanded a colossal $4.8 billion. It’s certainly apparent that fish oil supplements are rising in popularity. Nevertheless, they are still a long way off from matching the sales of the bellwether breadwinner, multivitamins.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Council for Responsible Nutrition Responds to Newsweek Antioxidant Article

Here is the link to the unfortunate article in this week's Newsweek.

Dr. Duffy MacKay's response:

“It's unfortunate that this article provided an isolated look at the body of science surrounding antioxidants.  For example, this article didn't take into account  the entire body of scientific research, which included a number of studies that have shown that taking antioxidant supplements, including vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, zinc and selenium, consistently over the long-term, can play a role in reducing the risk of chronic disease.  

The article also provided an incomplete picture of the existing scientific evidence supporting the benefits of antioxidants, instead relying exclusively on findings from only negative or null studies, and meta-analyses that many scientists have already criticized.   For example, the article did not mention that a recent published re-analysis of the same data reviewed in the 2008 Cochrane Collaboration (which the author references in her story), found that antioxidants in fact don't boost mortality risks.  Nor did this article reference another recent meta-analysis citing the benefits of vitamin E.   These are just two examples of scientific articles which, if included, would have provided readers with a more balanced perspective on the importance of antioxidants.

Nutrition experts agree that a diet high in fruits and vegetables promotes health and reduces the risk of chronic disease. Yet the reality is that people simply aren’t incorporating enough fruits and vegetables in their diets—and therefore may be missing many of the crucial benefits antioxidants provide—and may benefit from taking antioxidant supplements.  While they shouldn’t be considered magic bullets, consumers can feel confident that, when used properly in combination with eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise, antioxidant supplements can play an important role in maintaining and promoting overall health.  Studies have shown that the number one reason consumers take supplements—including antioxidant supplements—is for the overall health and wellness benefits they provide.  Instead of disparaging consumers for the healthy choices they are making, we should be commending them for being proactive in their efforts towards good health.”

1     Biesalski, HK, et al. Re-examination of a Meta-Analysis of the Effect of Antioxidant Supplementation on Mortality and Health in Randomized Trials. Nutrients 2010;2:929-949.
         Abner EL, et al.  Vitamin E and All-cause Mortality: A Meta-Analysis. Curr Aging Sci. 2011 Jan 14. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Stark Warning: Smoking Causes Genetic Damage

In research described as "a stark warning" to those tempted to start smoking, scientists are reporting that cigarette smoke begins to cause genetic damage within minutes — not years — after inhalation into the lungs.

Their report, the first human study to detail the way certain substances in tobacco cause DNA damage linked to cancer, appears in Chemical Research in Toxicology, one of 38 peer-reviewed scientific journals published by the American Chemical Society.

Stephen S. Hecht, Ph.D., and colleagues point out in the report that lung cancer claims a global toll of 3,000 lives each day, largely as a result of cigarette smoking. Smoking also is linked to at least 18 other types of cancer. Evidence indicates that harmful substances in tobacco smoke termed polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, are one of the culprits in causing lung cancer. Until now, however, scientists had not detailed the specific way in which the PAHs in cigarette smoke cause DNA damage in humans.

The scientists added a labeled PAH, phenanthrene, to cigarettes and tracked its fate in 12 volunteers who smoked the cigarettes. They found that phenanthrene quickly forms a toxic substance in the blood known to trash DNA, causing mutations that can cause cancer. The smokers developed maximum levels of the substance in a time frame that surprised even the researchers: Just 15-30 minutes after the volunteers finished smoking. Researchers said the effect is so fast that it's equivalent to injecting the substance directly into the bloodstream.

"This study is unique," writes Hecht, an internationally recognized expert on cancer-causing substances found in cigarette smoke and smokeless tobacco. "It is the first to investigate human metabolism of a PAH specifically delivered by inhalation in cigarette smoke, without interference by other sources of exposure such as air pollution or the diet. The results reported here should serve as a stark warning to those who are considering starting to smoke cigarettes," the article notes.

The authors acknowledged funding from the National Cancer Institute.

Smoking dramatically increases the risk of degenerative eye disease, including macular degeneration.  One wonders why any thinking person would start smoking given today's knowledge.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Another Vitamin E Meta-Analysis on Vitamin E and Stroke Risk

The British Medical Journal just published another Vitamin E study suggesting that supplemental Vitamin E increases the risk for hemorrhagic (aneurism, or bleeding in the brain) stroke. Vitamin E did not increase the risk of ischemic (thrombosis, or blood clot) stroke.  This will, no doubt, alarm the public and those docs who only read headlines and don't bother to read the entire study before recommending that their patients stop taking supplemental vitamin E.

Here are a few reasons to stay positive about vitamin E supplementation.
  1. The majority of this meta analysis data was derived from studies involving diseases on high risk patients, so the results probably are not all that relevant to the general population. 
  2. This analysis only looked at studies involving supplemental vitamin E alone. We know that antioxidants (and all nutrients) don't function in isolation but as part of complex networks, so the idea that a single nutrient will have potent effects is probably misplaced to begin with.
  3. The study did not identify the percentage of participants who were supplementing with synthetic (dl) alpha tocopherol vitamin E vs. natural d-alpha tocopherol vitamin E.  
  4. Neither did the study identify the lucky subjects who were supplementing with a biochemically balanced mixture of alpha, beta, gamma and delta tocopherols and tocotrienols, which make up a  natural vitamin E molecule.
FYI:  The meta-analysis study authors estimated that for every 1000 high risk patients exposed to supplemental vitamin E they would predict 0.8% more hemorrhagic strokes and 2.1% fewer ischemic strokes.  So the benefits may actually outweigh the risks, when it come to stroke.

Friday, October 29, 2010

ABC's Good Morning America Suggests Supplements No Substitute for Healthy Diet?

Given that Healthy People 2010 data suggests that fewer than 11% of the U.S. population consumes even five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, the October 29 ABC news special suggesting that supplements are not necessary seems beyond irresponsible (the new fruit and vegetable serving intake recommendation is now 9-13 servings a day to reach RDAs of most nutrients.  Nutrient-emply high-calorie junk food has become the norm for a large percentage of the population and nutritional deficiencies that lead to degenerative disease have become common. 

October 29, 2010 Response From the Council for Responsible Nutrition:
Consumers should strive to get their nutrients from eating a healthy diet; however, realistically a large percentage of the population is not getting what they need from food alone. While dietary supplements should not replace a healthy diet, consumers need practical options for getting nutrients, and dietary supplements are a convenient, affordable choice for those consumers who want to ensure their nutritional bases are covered. We need to stop thinking of food and supplements as an either/or situation—they work hand in hand. We encourage consumers to take supplements in combination with other healthy habits, including a well-balanced diet, regular exercise and routine visits with a healthcare professional. More than 150 million Americans take dietary supplements each year—including multivitamins, fish oil, vitamin D, and others—as an insurance policy for good health.

Ellen Troyer, MT MA
Biosyntrx CEO / Chief Research Officer
Voting Member, Council for Responsible Nutrition

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Lost Art of the Apology

This interesting article was written by Judy Blatman for the Council for Responsible Nutrition blog.  It speaks to the large amount of misinformation in today's press.

"There was a time when the press waited for facts to come to light before filing stories or broadcasting accusatory pieces. Those were the days when newsrooms were fat with budgets, and reporters would meet you for a burger and a scotch to get to know you and your industry. There were even fact checkers.

I’m not saying those things don’t exist today—but let’s face it, the network big budgets are gone—and broadcast bureaus and accompanying correspondents have been sliced from their jobs like the meat off the turkey carcass on Thanksgiving. Often there’s very little, if any, time to think about a story before it airs—as producers and editors are held hostage to getting the story out before their competitors. That was tough enough when the competition was two other networks.  Now, everyone is the competition—and getting it out first means living on an endless news cycle.

But still there are people responsible for getting things right. That’s what made it even more frustrating to have watched a couple of weeks ago as the story of the hospitalized high school athletes in Oregon unfolded.

Since all the info I have about the story comes from the press, I’m not completely sure how these athletes ended up with compartment syndrome, or who used the word “creatine” first, but I know what wasn’t known. Which is that at the time the story was reported, there was no proof that creatine was involved. But that didn’t stop a well-respected local doctor or the press from making noise that the supplement industry was unregulated or that creatine was likely involved.

Worst of all, it didn’t stop ABC News from airing a story that was at best, choppy and sloppily slapped together to fit that evening’s “scary story” slot  (or at least that’s how it appeared to me) with just enough innuendo to indict creatine without actually showing any relationship between the incident and the supplement. A story that was craftily produced to be difficult to criticize (or sue) on a factual basis, but edited in such a way that one could easily conclude that creatine was evil.  It was supposition at its best—or worst.  And not at the level of journalism that I would expect from the network news.

To compound matters, as the story unfolded, it became even more evident that creatine was not involved (although I’m not sure that even now, all the facts have been collected). But here’s the thing about creatine and this story—first,  the athletes weren’t taking any, and second, there doesn’t appear to be a scientific connection to creatine and compartment syndrome—the ailment that caused the hospitalization. So you think that at the very least ABC News would remove their story from the website? Or even respond to our email asking for the story to be taken down. Maybe the local doctor would write us back answering the email sent scientist to scientist—suggesting some of his “facts” were not? Or that we might have heard back from at least one of any of the number of print reporters we reached out to—asking them to make corrections to their characterization of supplement industry regulation or urging them to talk to an academic researcher about creatine and compartment syndrome. Nope. Apparently, in the era of a 24/7 news cycle, admitting you may have rushed to judgment or issuing a mea culpa is apparently a lost art.

So, if I’m being honest, I should probably concede that it is possible that the people we reached out to didn’t get our emails—perhaps the notes are stuck in junk mail folders, or we had outdated email addresses. But you know what…why should I bother to check the facts—if they don’t tie in to my story."

The good news is that the Council for Responsible Nutrition does check facts, and they require that member companies check their facts, as well. 

Ellen Troyer, MT MA
Biosyntrx CEO / Chief Research Officer
Voting Member - Council for Responsible Nutrition