Thursday, February 19, 2009

Are Taking Supplements "Worthless?" An Analysis of the Women's Health Initiative Study (WHI)

The February 9, 2009 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine reported that multivitamin use did not protect the 161,808 postmenopausal women enrolled in the Women's Health Initiative Study (WHI) from common forms of cancer, heart attacks, or strokes. Thus, the pharmaceutical industry-funded media hype has been that taking multivitamins are “worthless.”

Contrary to the hype of the recent article, however, the WHI study did not have as a primary goal to study the effects of vitamins on women's health. Rather, the study focused on 4 primary areas:
  • The health effects of postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy.
  • The effects of a low fat diet on cancer risk.
  • The effects of calcium and vitamin D intake on postmenopausal fracture risk.
  • Watching for new risk factors for disease such as cancer, CVD, and fracture risk.

Although it was not the goal of the WHI to evaluate the importance of taking a multivitamin, somehow certain authors have misconstrued this study as a black mark against taking vitamins.
In the study, researchers simply asked the participating women a series of different questions, one of which was whether they took a multivitamin at least once a week or not. Once a week? There is not a single vitamin supplement on the planet that is going to provide much benefit taken only once a week, or even three times a week. To do any good, a multivitamin should be taken at least a couple of times a day. But the medical authors conveniently forgot to mention that little detail. No surprise there.
Now, the absurdity of this article is perhaps best revealed by this point, since one would not expect any multivitamin to do much good taken only once or twice a week or so. However, for the sake of demonstrating just how shady this information is, let us consider the bigger picture.
Misrepresenting the Facts
For those that were taking a multivitamin in the WHI study, no additional information was asked for, such as what type and brand of multivitamin, how much of certain nutrients the supplement provided and in what forms, why they were taking them, etc. It was suggested by the authors, however, that people take multivitamins specifically to reduce risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, and it was assumed, of course, that all multivitamins are created equal and that everyone took adequate amounts with regularity. (Of course, anyone who is familiar with the science of supplements knows that there is a wide range of quality in supplement manufacturing, ranging from "pharmaceutical grade" to simply awful.)

There are some fundamental problems, of course, in these assumptions. So we must ask some clarifying questions:
  • Do people really take multivitamins specifically to ward off cancer and heart disease?
  • Is that the purpose of a multivitamin? Or is a multivitamin designed to prevent nutrient deficiency diseases?
  • Are cancer, cardiovascular disease, and postmenopausal fracture risks exclusively nutrient deficiency diseases, or are there other factors that play into these diseases such as stress, diet, exercise, toxin exposure, etc?
The author’s own conclusions were that other large-scale studies that monitored for a sufficient period of time (greater than 10 years) have shown reduced cancer and CVD risk. However, the WHI study lasted only 8 years. Perhaps longer duration is the key. In addition, these women were observing a higher quality diet than what is typical, so it is quite possible that they did not have the kind of disease risk factors as those who observe a typical American diet. The author seems to assume, however, that everyone gets adequate amounts of nutrients from the diet.

From the article:
"...No one denies that an adequate intake of vitamins is essential; however, vitamins can and should be obtained from eating enough healthy foods rather than from swallowing vitamin supplements..."

So then, should we assume that practitioners can just tell patients to “eat better” and they will? What does “eat better” mean in this day and age of nutrient-depleted, heavily processed and refined foods? What does “eat better” look like when even the “fresh” produce at your local grocery store is so nutrient-depleted from modern farming methods that there is scarcely any nutrient value left at all? Have you driven by McDonalds or a Steak-N-Shake lately? Perhaps “eat well” means putting an extra slice of iceberg lettuce on your Quarter-Pounder. I dunno.

The truth is, according to a Surgeon General report, 7 out of 10 leading causes of death in this country are diet-related, and the NHANES II study showed that most Americans are woefully uneducated about diet and nutrition, and most are deficient in several important nutrients than can be resolved with supplements. In fact, the problem of nutrient deficiencies is so bad that most Americans are not obtaining even the pitiful amounts recommended by RDA standards for intake of micronutrients. Indeed, the first NHANES study from 1994 stated that the disease, scurvy – a vitamin C deficiency disease, is still present in developed countries because of the prevalence of widespread nutrient deficiencies. J Gen Intern Med. 2008 Aug;23(8):1281-4. Velandia et al.

“Oops! I didn’t mean to contradict myself.”

What is not apparent to the casual observer of the misleading headlines in this article, and what is evidently not even apparent to the author himself is the fact that the article contradicts itself.

"...All this is not to say that specific vitamins supplements are never desirable. Vitamins can be valuable in certain situations. Folic acid supplements in women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant can help to prevent serious neural-tube defects that affect the baby's brain and spine..."

Umm…didn’t you just say that supplements are worthless? So which is it?

Since the most important time for folic acid sufficiency is prior to conception, would it not be better to take a daily multivitamin that contains sufficient folate instead of finding out one is pregnant and then suggesting a prenatal?

"...Supplements of vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, zinc, and copper may slow the progression of vision loss in people with early macular degeneration..."

Sounds like a case for a multivitamin right there.

So here are three good examples of a need for a multivitamin other than suggesting it is being taken specifically to reduce cancer and heart disease risk.

Most Western Diets are Nutritionally-Flawed
It can no longer be assumed that people can get all the nutrients they need just by eating better. The toxic load on the human race due to chronic stress and environmental toxicity is higher than it has ever been in human history, and that places a demand for life-giving nutrients to circumvent these challenges.

Think of the human body as an automobile, and the nutrients we take in as the fuel. If a heavier demand in placed upon the automobile by placing a big load in it and driving it uphill against the wind for a long distance, what will happen? The engine works harder and requires much more fuel. Similarly, when heavy demands are placed upon the body by stress and toxicity, the body requires more fuel in the form of vitamins and minerals in order to function optimally. If it does not get those vitamins and minerals, eventually systems begin to break down.

This is not rocket science, folks. The prevalence of chronic disease such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis, etc. is ravaging the American landscape, and conventional medicine has done little to slow the progression of it. Surely these scourges can’t be nutritionally-related! Must be a drug deficiency of some sort, huh?

The fact is, there are more well-designed studies showing the benefits of taking multivitamins than I have room to list here, and in fact the Journal of the American Medical Association – perhaps the most prestigious of all the medical journals – suggested in 2002 that all Americans should consider taking a multivitamin.

The Business of Disease
Why then, is there so much resistance against taking vitamins in the medical community?
Let me ask you a series of questions to get at the heart of the matter:
  • Why do Democrats and Republicans accuse one another and resist each other on most issues?
  • Why does Chevrolet advertising take aim at Honda, and Nissan’s against Toyota?
  • Why does Burger King advertise that they have conducted international analysis of people’s hamburger preferences and a majority say that they like their burgers over McDonalds? Do you wonder if they really do those surveys, or at least do them in a fair and unbiased manner?
I could go on, but you get my point. “But surely this does not apply to American medicine. It’s not a business trying to make a profit. It’s medicine!”
If that’s really what you think, I’ve got some beautiful beachfront property on the moon I would like to sell you.

Of course American medicine is a business. It’s big business! And like a lot of businesses these days they seek to sell their wares by casting a dim light on the competition, which in this case is alternative forms of medicine, which includes supplements. The American Medical Association (AMA), for example, has long worked to discredit alternative medicine and has even been found guilty by U.S. federal courts of engaging in a conspiracy to destroy chiropractic medicine. The AMA, which is largely considered a joke by anyone familiar with natural health, is hardly a credible source for publishing scientific findings on nutrition. To protect the multi-billion dollar drug industry, the AMA would say practically anything, I believe. But folks, it’s worse than that.

What the Unholy Trinity (the pharmaceutical industry, the FDA, and conventional medicine) is guilty of is inhumane. They purposefully misconstrue the facts and even design “studies” that produce the results that they want the public to hear, thus robbing countless Americans of life-saving information for the sake of fattening their already-overstuffed pockets. Only God knows how many people have died because of not having access to information that could have saved them, and instead having drugs pushed on them, exposing them to chemicals that are responsible for more than a 100,000 drug-related deaths per year in America alone (imagine the angry uproar if vitamins killed even a fraction of that amount). And these fat-cat executives use those excess dollars to pretty much fund the news networks, magazines, and newspapers with their monstrous advertising budget, and thus these media outlets publish anything they're told. God forbid that they should ever publish any of the thousands of studies showing the benefit of supplementing the diet. But when a piece of junk science gets published, that’s what you hear about.

Here’s what I mean by junk science.

How to Manipulate a Study

Here’s a great example of how the powers-that-be in modern medicine tell you what they want you to hear.

Last year the Cochrane Library, a widely-read source of information on conventional health matters, launched an attack on vitamins A, C, E, selenium and beta-carotene, claiming that these vital nutrients were linked with a higher risk of mortality (i.e."they'll kill you!"), and as a result scientists began telling consumers to stop taking vitamins altogether. But with all the benefits of antioxidants already well known to the well-informed, how did the Cochrane Library arrive at such a conclusion? Easy.

The researchers reviewed 452 studies on these vitamins, and they threw out the 405 studies where nobody died! That left just 47 studies where patients died from various causes. One study was conducted on terminal heart patients, for example. From this biased selection of studies, these researchers concluded that antioxidants increase mortality.

Just in case you do not yet recognize this as the scientific fraud that it is, let me rephrase what happened. These scientists claimed to be studying the effects of vitamins on mortality, right? They were conducting a meta-analysis based on reviewing established studies. But instead of conducting an honest and unbiased review of all the studies, they arbitrarily decided to eliminate all studies in which vitamins prevented death and kept people alive! They did this by "excluding all studies in which no participants died." What was left to review, then, was only the studies in which people died from various causes.

Brilliant! This sort of twisted “science” would earn any teenager an "F" in high school science class. But apparently it's good enough for the Cochrane Library and the Archives of Internal Medicine to name just two, not to mention all the mainstream press outlets that are now repeating these outrageous and fallacious conclusions as scientific fact.

Using this same cherry-picking method for reviewing previous studies, one could find evidence to support practically any conclusion under the Milky Way. Mike Adams of Natural News explained how this is done in his article, Vitamins A, C and E Increase Mortality! (and other nonsense from the realm of junk science). He writes,
"Let's say that I took a look at 100 studies reviewing the effects of aspirin on erections. And let's suppose I arbitrarily decide to eliminate all the studies involving men, leaving only studies involving women. I could then announce -- with the evidence to back it up -- that "Aspirin Linked with Drop in Erections!" Why? Because nobody in the groups I look at had any erections at all. Sure, they're all women, but that's beside the point. By arbitrarily removing selected studies from my analysis, I can "prove" just about anything, even if it's utter nonsense. The antioxidant study did the exact same thing by eliminating all studies in which people were kept alive and healthy while taking antioxidant vitamins. Or, put another way, the lead researchers on this study purposely eliminated all the studies involving healthy people, leaving only the studies involving people who were about to die anyway. Never mind the fact that antioxidants might have actually extended the lives of some of these people by a few days or weeks -- the fact that they died while being treated with vitamins is enough, it seems, to point the finger at the vitamins themselves.
If a suicidal stock broker leaps from a tall building, and you hand him a vitamin C tablet on the way down, then it's obviously the vitamin C that kills him, right? That's the conclusion of this [method of conducting studies]: Take a bunch of patients who are about to die, load 'em up with antioxidants, and tally the inevitable death toll. Then announce, with great fanfare, your findings that 'Antioxidant Vitamins Increase Mortality!' "

Much "scientific research” is Anything But

As you can see from these particular examples of junk science, the credibility of much of what happens under the guise of "science" is now so incomprehensively awful that it makes one wonder how many drugs the researchers are on. You would think that people literally have to be on drugs to come up with such poorly-designed studies and then to have the temerity to announce their results with a straight face. But money and power often are often just as distorting to people’s judgment as mind-altering drugs.

It turns out that the implications of drug-induced distortions of judgment are not far off the mark. A recent survey in Nature found that 20 percent of science academics use mind-altering drugs for non-medical reasons, supposedly to boost academic performance. That's one out of five researchers engaged in illegal drug use! This is a group that takes more mind-altering drugs than what is passed around at a Grateful Dead concert. And then they have the audacity to announce their "scientific" studies that lack such credibility you have to wonder if their drug abuse is used to dull their consciences.

So what we're seeing in this latest article attacking the efficacy of supplements is just another example of not merely bad science and bad reporting, but deceptive science and deceptive reporting.

And that's the world in which we live.
Some of the information in this article was adapted from two Mike Adams articles from Natural News: Vitamins A,C, and E Increase Mortality, and, The big vitamin scare: American Medical Association claims vitamins may kill you.