The dangers of selective science and media propaganda
You may or may not have heard that dietary supplements are back under the microscope, once again for all the wrong reasons
TV3 recently screened a “news” article and "documentary" (I use the term loosely) about the “risks” associated with dietary supplement use.
This program is, in my opinion, the epitome of selective "science" and propaganda media designed to confuse and generate fear. This is not a new method of turning people to thinking a specific way or generating fear of something to encourage actions that lead in a prescribed direction. This technique has been utilised since man gained the knowledge of how to manipulate others – fear of the unknown, fear of the Gods, fear of being unacceptable or on the losing side . . . . Hitler was a master at this particular method of manipulation.
The "Cochrane Collaboration" research touted in this program as "hard, scientifically validated evidence" that certain vitamins will shorten your life span is not new data, but a rehash of the results of a 2007 meta-analysis study that suggested that long term use of particular nutrients commonly used in dietary supplements increased the risk of death. This is a good example of "bad /selective science". Here are some comments on the research and the reported results.
• The use of meta-analyses to pool data is controversial, and scientists need to keep perspective before publishing conclusions.
• Meta-analyses are selective, and for this very reason they are also controversial - which studies do they include and exclude, and why?
• Looking at the details of the research analysis shows us that 67 randomised clinical trials were included, focusing on beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium supplements versus placebo.
• Amazingly, 748 trials were excluded for several reasons, including 405 trials that showed no mortality in the study groups. Perhaps their reasoning is as simple as: "you can't measure antioxidants in relation to death if you have no deaths to compare it to"? "Nobody died in this trial, so it can't be included…" Selective science is all well and good when used to weed out substandard studies, but it should always be questioned when it involves excluding what appear to be perfectly good studies because they don't fit "predetermined outcomes".
• This antioxidant meta-analysis is not new. It was published in 2007 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and received much criticism from both independent academics and the dietary supplements industry.
• There is also the issue of the clinical trials that such analyses are based on. We need to be very careful about the use of such trials. Why? Because they pull nutrients out of context, and they focus on a fixed dose for a fixed period of time – using a pharmaceutical model most often doesn’t accurately gauge the results of nutritional supplements in healthy or unwell populations.
• Additionally, many randomised clinical trials, as was the case with the Cochrane Collaboration meta-analysis, look at the effect of nutrients in diseased populations. Surely the damage of a lifetime's poor nutrition has already been done, not to mention the other drug medications these people are likely to be taking. When we obtain negative or null results from such trials, should we really be surprised?
• This meta-analysis being re-reported focused primarily on diseased populations, such as smokers – those with a higher death rate regardless of their state of nutrition or use of nutritional supplements.
The New Zealand program itself was an exercise in nothing more than scaremongering. Whilst they made a point of saying that all the subjects had "excess levels of vitamins A & E", what they didn’t say is what their levels were in excess of. Were they elevated over the accepted upper limits, or just over the median average or even over the minimum recommended limits or intake. It seems they may have just picked a number (perhaps the very conservative recommended dietary allowance figures) and used that as their baseline. They didn’t make it clear that not all the subjects were taking vitamin A or E in their daily supplement regime. They also neglected to say that the majority of the supplements these people were taking would have had very low levels of these vitamins and likely no preformed vitamin A – the dangerous in extreme excess kind. Most dietary supplements in New Zealand, including all of our Radiance vitamin products, with “vitamin A” do not contain retinol or preformed vitamin A, but beta carotene, a very safe nutrient not stored in the liver to the same extent as vitamin A, but utilised by the body to produce vitamin A as it is required.
I doubt you will find anyone in the natural health or dietary supplement industry suggesting that any nutritional supplement can be used as a replacement for a healthy, balanced diet. However, whilst a healthy balanced diet is an absolute essential for overall good health, it is not enough – New Zealand soils are deficient in certain minerals – zinc, selenium, molybdenum and boron for example, our agricultural land is being further depleted by intense farming and multiple chemical applications. Even good ol’ fruit and veges are no longer enough – our grandparents and great grandparents did not eat so much “out of season” or imported produce as we do now, they ate fruit and vegetables that were picked when ripe, not picked green before the nutrients have properly developed and then chemically ripened. The food wasn’t stored for long periods of time (6 - 12 months or more), sprayed with preservatives or processed into convenience foods devoid of most of the nutritional factors that many “experts” are assuming the food still contains – because once-upon-a-time or when a particular food was analysed it did.
The upshot is that this “vitamins have been proven to kill you” data and this "reality" TV program (disguised as a documentary) are nothing more than propaganda reporting and the details are not based on sound or proven science. Professor Jackson made it very clear that this was an exercise to help convince the public and "the powers that be" that dietary supplements should be regulated as medical drugs.
If Professor Rod Jackson, the same "public health expert" that in 2008 called for a "health tax" on butter, saying it's "pure, natural poison" and as bad as cigarettes, is not “anti-vitamin, just against things that kill you”, why is he not campaigning against the outrageous death toll from properly prescribed medical drugs (more than the road death toll every year in New Zealand alone), not to mention medical misadventure (mistakes) and the increase in suicides, permanent disability and premature death from certain medical drugs and procedures.
The mountain of research, actual scientifically validated research and clinical evidence, shows that dietary supplements are not dangerous and can be very, very beneficial for both specific conditions and general health.
There is no evidence that dietary supplements have actually been responsible for a single death in New Zealand. And the evidence presented in this program to suggest that they are detrimental is "bad science and adversely selective data" at best.
The truth is out there, only when we seek and find are we empowered with the knowledge to break free of the chains of dictatorial and draconian mass manipulation.