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JAMA Anti-Vitamins Studies Flawed

Monday, December 22, 2008 by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor
Tags: vitamins, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) Scientific research isn't as simple as portrayed in movies or fiction – and the results certainly are rarely as simple as what is reported by the mainstream (and, too often, lazy) media. A case in point: the news that two studies just published in the December 9 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) "prove" vitamins C and E do nothing to prevent heart disease or cancer, and selenium and vitamin E are also worthless against prostate cancer.

At first glance, the results of these studies are clearly disappointing and surprising. After all, there is other research indicating vitamins E and C and selenium have a positive impact on health based on animal and laboratory studies.

So what did the JAMA studies really show? The vitamin C and E study concluded that when a population described as "well-nourished" physicians took only one dosage of supplements for eight years -- 400 international units (IU) of vitamin E or placebo every other day and 500 milligrams of vitamin C or placebo daily -- there was no difference between the vitamin or placebo group. But would there be a difference in disease prevention if the dosages had been higher? If a different kind of vitamin E was used? Would there be a difference in ten years, or more? Would there be a difference if the vitamins were looked at in a group that WASN'T already "well-nourished" and healthy? No one knows.

Some news stories even suggested the selenium and vitamin E study showed the nutrients were harmful, because slightly more men who took vitamin E alone developed prostate cancer and slightly more men who took selenium alone developed type 2 diabetes. What wasn't emphasized was that the researchers themselves admitted these negative results were not statistically significant and could well be simply due to chance.

Common sense and rational thinking show the much ballyhooed JAMA studies reveal only that 1. More studies need to be done and 2. There are so many variables to consider when looking at nutrients in isolation, sweeping conclusions are often difficult to make, and could well be downright wrong.

In fact, that's the opinion of several experts – although their counter views received little if any coverage in the MSM. For example, Andrew Shao, Ph.D., of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, went on record to suggest that one obvious reason for what appears to be a conflict "between the new studies and previous studies that found positive effects could be due to effects of nutrients in the human body being complex and influenced by many variables."

And Peter Gann, MD, ScD, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, agrees. He wrote an editorial that accompanied the studies in JAMA criticizing the reliability of these kinds of randomized clinical studies that try to look at the value of nutrients found in food as isolated supplements.

"It may be time to give up the idea that the protective influence of diet on prostate cancer risk...can be emulated by isolated dietary molecules given alone or in combination to middle-aged and older men," Dr. Gann wrote. "If it requires whole foods, extracts, or dietary patterns [to reduce disease risk], it may be necessary to give up the reductionist need to know which molecule is most responsible and perhaps give up the notion of placebo controls as well."

The bottom line, as Dr. Gann, puts it: "… single-agent interventions, even in combinations, may be an ineffective approach to primary prevention in average-risk populations. "

There are clearly far better ways to study the impact of nutrition and healthy living in general on disease prevention and treatment. A study just published by Australian scientists in the December 2nd edition of the Molecular Nutrition and Food Research journal is a good example that involves looking primarily at food, and not isolated supplements. Researchers from the University of Melbourne reviewed findings by an expert panel on behalf of the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research, as well as additional new nutrition data, and concluded foods containing lycopene, as well as selenium and foods containing it, probably protect against prostate cancer, and excess consumption of foods or supplements containing calcium are a probable cause of this cancer.

About the author

Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA’s "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic’s "Men’s Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.

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