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Bad news about supplements?? [Discover mag., Oct. 2017]


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I haven't kept up with supplement news in ages! As far as my own regimen ... years ago, I culled back on just about everything. Too $, too much micromanagement, too much fuss, etc**.  If this latest article in Discover is accurate, seems I lucked out ;)




The article below appears in the Oct. 2017 issue of Discover magazine (no full-text online version yet avail. I've copied/pasted from PDF. Spelling an grammar errors are due to poor PDF conversion!!)



No Denying It


 What happens when the scienti?c data  don't play along with the view we have  of ourselves? 
 50%  of Americans said  they regularly take  vitamins or mineral supplements. 
 How do they do it? How do  science deniers manage to  convince themselves that the evidence  for global warming, evolution and  vaccine safety is so much fake news? For  those of us who prefer to remain based  in reality, the denialists represent a  conundrum. Plenty of them are  intelligent and educated - yet  they just will not accept  scientific findings as true. At  least not when it comes to inconvenient  truths that mess with their self-interest  or self-identity.
Luckily, most science geeks would  never deny the settled science in a  field where multiple peer-reviewed,  placebo-controlled studies ind the  same thing over and over. They would  never be lulled into believing that  thousands of scientists have conspired  to delude people into accepting a  phony consensus.
Or would they?
 Late in 2013, a week before Christmas,  the Annals of Internal Medicine  published three papers on the role of  vitamin and mineral supplements in  the prevention of disease or death. 
The first reviewed three large trials of  multivitamins and 24 trials of single  or combined vitamins involving over  400,000 people. The conclusion:  no convincing evidence that the  supplements prevent or delay cancer,  heart disease or death.
The second study, a randomized trial  following 5,947 men aged 65 or older  for 12 years, found no difference in the  mental functioning or verbal memory  of those who took a multivitamin  versus those who took a placebo.
The third compared a high-dose,  28-component multivitamin with  placebo in 1,708 men and women  who had survived a previous heart  attack. After 4.6 years, no difference  was seen between the two groups in  their subsequent rate of heart attacks  or strokes.
An editorial accompanying the three  studies noted: "Evidence involving  tens of thousands of people randomly  assigned in many clinical trials shows  that beta-carotene, vitamin E, and  possibly high doses of vitamin A  supplements increase mortality and  that other antioxidants, folic acid and B  vitamins, and multivitamin supplements  have no clear benefit." Of course, all vitamins, by  definition, are essential for health in  small amounts. And while doctors do  sometimes prescribe particular vitamins  to treat specific medical conditions,  most of us get all we need from  food. It's the widespread belief in  vitamin supplements to prevent or  treat heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's  or the common cold that simply does  not stand up to scientific scrutiny.
The same month that those papers  were published, Gallup released a poll  showing that 50 percent of Americans  said they "regularly take a multivitamin  or any other type of vitamin or  mineral supplement." Interestingly,  the higher the education level of the  person, the greater the chances that  they took a vitamin. Just 43 percent  of those with only a high school  education said they took a  vitamin, compared with 51  percent of those with some  college, 55 percent of college  graduates and 65 percent of those  with postgraduate degrees.
No reliable national polls on the  subject have come out since. But a  May 2016 report by Nielsen examined  sales data from 91,000 grocery, drug,  convenience and value stores, analyzing  approximately 738,000 individual SKU  product codes in 53 categories - in  other words, pretty much everything  sold in retail outlets. It found that "vitamins and supplements had the  largest increase in total store sales over  the past two years," outpacing sales of  food and, well, everything else.
By comparison, the proportion of  people who deny that global warming  is caused by pollution from human  activities - who insist it's simply  a result of natural changes in the  environment - dropped from 46  percent in 2010 to just 31 percent in  2016, according to Gallup polls.
As for herbal remedies, in 2015  New York's attorney general, Eric  Schneiderman, released results of DNA  testing of echinacea, ginseng and St. John's wort from four national retailers:  Target, Walmart, Walgreens and GNC. 
"Just 21 percent of the test  results from store brand  herbal supplements verified  DNA from the plants listed  on the products' labels,"  Schneiderman's office  reported, "with 79 percent  coming up empty." He  asked retailers to halt sales  of the products.
The next year, Nutrition  Business Journal conceded  that "intuition would suggest that the  New York attorney general's actions in  early 2015 would have hurt sales, but  the herbs and botanicals category is one  of the strongest categories NBJ tracks. 
. . . Internet sales in the category grew at  an astonishing 19.4 percent."
"It makes you wonder why people  are doing this," says Eliseo Guallar, the  epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins  Bloomberg School of Public Health  who wrote the 2013 editorial in the  Annals of Internal Medicine. "I wish we  had better data about what the thought  process is in people's heads."
Perhaps - and this is just a wild  guess - it's due in part to the  relentless advertising and marketing of  supplements. Because of the Dietary  Supplement Health and Education Act  of 1994, manufacturers of vitamins,  herbs and other supplements are not  required to prove to the FDA that a  product is either safe or effective before  selling it. Moreover, they can legally  market any product with vague claims  such as "maintains immune function,"  so long as they don't specifically say that  it actually treats or cures anything.
But advertising isn't so all-powerful. 
If it were, those television commercials  by the fossil fuel industry would have  convinced everyone by now that coal  can be "clean." So why do products  like Cold-EEZE and Airborne keep  on selling, even after class-action suits  and Federal Trade Commission actions  alleging that their claims of treating  the common cold were  unsubstantiated? One could point to the  increasingly negative view  that Americans hold about  the mainstream health  care system. Back in 1975,  Gallup asked how highly  people regarded various  institutions in American  society. When it came to  the "medical system," 44  percent of Americans said they had  a "great deal" of confidence in it,  while 36 percent said they had "quite  a bit." A mere 13 percent said they  had only "some" confidence, and just  4 percent said they had "very little." Jump ahead four decades, to 2016,  and the change is startling: Only  17 percent said they had a "great deal"  of confidence in the medical system,  and only 22 percent had "quite a lot."  (The two combined dropped by more  than half, from a total of 80 percent in  1975 to 39 percent in 2015.)  By contrast, the proportion  who said they had "some"  confidence more than  doubled, from 13 percent to  36 percent, while the segment  who had "very little" jumped  nearly sixfold, to 23 percent.
It's nothing personal  against traditional health  care providers. Another  Gallup poll, from December 2016,  found the highest-rated professions for  honesty and ethical standards to be  nurses, with 84 percent of people rating  them "very high/high," followed by  pharmacists at 67 percent and medical  doctors at 65 percent. Health insurers,  on the other hand, may be drawing  most of the incoming ire against the  broader health system. Only 12 percent  of respondents in the same poll ranked  HMO managers as "very high/high"  on ethical standards, compared with 31  percent who rated them "low." Whatever the reason, the American  public today is more inclined to  listen to an industry selling "natural"  supplements than to a medical  establishment selling boring old science.
Ultimately, beliefs stay in place when  they fulfill a need and strengthen  people's sense of identity, of who they  are or what they aspire to be.
Dan Kahan, professor of law and  psychology at Yale Law School,  sees public understanding of science  through what he and other researchers  call cultural cognition. He has  investigated people's conlicting views  on climate change, new technologies  and other areas where public  perceptions trail scientiic consensus.
"Cultural cognition can influence  everything from what people believe  they have seen with their own eyes  to how they perform a mathematical  calculation," he told me. "With the  goal of maintaining their status in  some affinity group, people are very  resourceful when it comes  to making arguments. It's  easy to go on the internet  to ind support for just  about anything." So liberals take vitamins  and other supplements  because they love all  things "natural" and  hate big pharmaceutical  companies and private  insurers, while corporation-worshipping  conservatives take them because they  love free markets and hate nanny-state  bureaucrats telling them what they can  and can't take for their own health.
And science nerds of all stripes who  wonder how anyone can be so ignorant  as to deny clear scientific results might  try this experiment: Open a bottle of  multivitamins, put one in your mouth  and swallow the bitter pill of self recognition.   
 Dan Hurley is a medical reporter whose friends  and family generally ignore his self-righteous  prattling about supplements.


** Long-time List members may recall that several of us CR long-haulers crunched our diet in software to optimize daily RDA. Even on limited calorie intake, it's EASY to meet or exceed daily RDA.


In 2004 (??) I adapted Michael Rae's "Tier" system of CR supplementation on my own cron-web site. 

It's here:


Not sure how the Tier system has evolved over the past 13 years. Especially in light of studies such as the ones reported in the Discover article.

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Ultimately however, isn't it all about evidence? Sure, studies are cited here that show null or negative results, but unfortunatly people have been conditioned to discount nutritional studies to a large degree, and it's hard to blame them. As the old joke goes, if you don't like the results, wait a day, because a new study will come out with the opposite conclusion. There are far fewer disputes and people hanging onto disproven hypothesis when the evidence is incontrovertible or very high quality. Not many studies have come out to contradict the dangers of smoking, for example, and while people may continue to smoke, they also acknowledge that it's bad for their health. But nutrition? Sorry, there is just too much confusion from official sources. And it seems there is really very little in the way of accepted consensus on even the most basic things - just look at saturated fat, a new study come out telling us that those who avoid SFA have actually higher all-cause mortality, and higher mortality due to strokes. 


And then we come to supplements - there are just too many and too many variants to make sweeping claims. Maybe supplemental vit. E is harmful, but at what doses and in what forms of vit. E, and does that take into account your other health context (diet, lifestyle, particular individual physiology etc.). 


I don't necessarily believe any particular claims, but that goes either way - pro or con. Truth is, we just don't know.

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