Big supplement profits – making boatloads of money in the name of pseudoscience

big supplement

As a vaccine supporter, I get accused of being a shill for Big Pharma all the time. My basement is filled with gold bars shipped to me in remuneration for my services to the corporate hooligans – wait. No basement, no gold bars. On the other hand, Big Supplement, those companies who make money off of people who think that if they take this one vitamin to prevent all cancer, makes a a ton of money selling this junk medicine to unwary and unsophisticated consumers.

Let’s take a moment and look at the differences between Big Pharma and Big Supplement. The former has to work hard and provide evidence of what its drugs do, while the latter basically can sit around and throw darts at various claims, then randomly assign those claims to some new or old supplement.

 

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Benefits of omega 3 fish oil – something’s fishy

I have been skeptical of supplements for a long period of time. The supplements are generally of low quality, they don’t prevent or cure cancer, they don’t prevent colds, they can’t boost the immune system, and they don’t prevent heart disease. Now it’s the time to take a look at the benefits of omega 3 fish oil, something that is claimed by Big Supplement over and over. Is there anything there?

Unless one has a chronic disease or is chronically malnourished, there are precious few instances where supplements are necessary. A couple of cases where supplements may be critical include prenatal folic acid supplements to prevent neurological defects in the developing fetus and vitamin D supplements for individuals who do not produce enough endogenous vitamin D. However, just to keep this in perspective, excess folic acid for a long period of time may be correlated with increased rates of certain cancers.

The benefits of omega 3 fish oil has always been intriguing to me, because it is a supplement that I thought might be useful to improving health, especially cardiovascular health. Omega 3 fatty acids are generally found in fish, as it is produced by the phytoplankton that is the primary food source of much of the prey for larger fish and bio-accumulates up the food chain. However, for humans, there are other sources of omega 3 oils including walnuts and edible seeds, eggs, and other non-fish foods.

Epidemiological studies done in the late 1980s seem to indicate relatively low death rates due to cardiovascular disease in Inuit populations with high seafood consumption. These results began the rush to consume omega 3 supplements, and created a booming supplement industry.

However, since publication of those initial studies, much research has been done on seafood and heart disease. And the results don’t give much credence to the cardiovascular benefits of omega 3 fish oils as a useful supplement.

 

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How to prevent cancer in 12 easy steps–OK, not that easy

how to prevent cancer

I have railed against charlatans who claim that they have the easy way to prevent or cure cancer. Generally, these snake oil salesmen try to convince you that they have some miraculous food, supplement, spiritual energy, and on and on, that can either kill cancer in its tracks. Or keep them from even growing in your body. But their claims are nearly always absent real compelling scientific evidence.

Like the trope supplements preventing cancer. They don’t. And that’s been shown in study after study after study after study (yeah, I could go on for awhile).

Or like avoiding GMO containing foods prevents cancer. Again, studies show that GMO foods have no effect on cancers. Oh, one more thing–bananas don’t have tumor necrosis factor, and the yellow fruit can’t prevent or cure cancer (but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t delicious).

Despite the absolute lack of evidence that supplements, kale, bananas, or drinking the pure waters of a glacial fed stream (which may not be an option with climate change), there are some things that can be done to reduce your risk (see what I did there–no absolutes, just management of risks) of cancer.

How to prevent cancer has been codified byThe World Health Organization (WHO) into 12 steps (no, not that debunked one) that is called the European Code Against Cancer.

Let’s take a look at cancer and the evidence-based ideas about cancer prevention.

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Common cold treatments – what works, what is just plain nonsense

common cold treatments

It’s that time of the year. Well, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. That’s right, it’s the season for common colds. And following right along are dozens of commercials and product placements that try to convince you that it is THE best of common cold treatments.

Walk into any pharmacy, grocery store, chemist, or superstore, you will find literally a dozen or more homeopathic, herbal, and other unproven lotions and potions to prevent or treat the common cold, or rhinovirus. These common cold treatments are a significant part of the estimated global US$278 billion dollar supplement/nutraceutical industry.

These alternative medicine – so named because there is no scientific evidence supporting their efficacy, let alone safety – products make claims that are so wonderful, many people take them. Then they themselves tell their friends how fast they got rid of their cold. Or that their cold wasn’t as bad after taking the supplement. Essentially, the whole industry is mostly based on anecdotes and placebo effect. Do you really want to trust your health to that?

We’re going to review some of the most well-known common cold treatments (there isn’t enough time to review them all), along with what real science says about them in high quality systematic reviews in Cochrane reviews and other high impact medical journals. This article will review all of the common cold treatments that seem to be out there. Spoiler alert – most don’t work. One major problem is that the determination of the length and severity of the course of the common cold is entirely subjective. Since the disease is rather mild with few serious complications, it’s hard to determine when it exactly stopped and started, and how bad it was. So, positive results, if they exist, should be treated with a high degree of skepticism. Continue reading “Common cold treatments – what works, what is just plain nonsense”

Cinnamon for diabetes – myth or science?

cinnamon for diabetes

People frequently want the easy way to correct their health issues. They want to imbue a magical quality to “natural” products to make themselves healthier. They don’t want to take one of those evil Big Pharma drugs. For example, over the past few years, Big Supplement has pushed a belief that cinnamon for diabetes is a great treatment.

But really, do these supplements actually do all that much? Well, the real scientific evidence gives little support to the health benefits of these various supplements. I’ve probably written over 50 articles on supplements, and maybe one supplement has any value in health.

Look at cancer prevention. There really are only a handful of ways to prevent cancer, and none of them include megadoses (or even single doses) of supplements.

We probably see a million advertisements for supplements and “natural” foods that make you thinner, healthier, smarter, stronger, better. Of course, if even 1% of the claims (or outright fabrications) made by these hawkers were supported by real science, we could close down Big Pharma and all those physicians hawking those evil drugs that aren’t necessary.

Except, we know that’s not true. And it’s time to look at the claims of cinnamon for diabetes – what is the real science.

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Vitamin D review – another overrated supplement?

Vitamin D review

Junk medical claims about vitamins are shouted from the rooftops of the internet, over and over. I can barely keep up with it. The claims about vitamin D seem to be trendy now.  That means it’s time for vitamin D review –  is it worth it, or is it a waste of your money?

Now, I don’t think vitamin D is worthless. It is an important micronutrient for human health, and if there’s a chronic deficiency, supplementation is necessary.

Proponents of megadoses of vitamins, called megavitamin therapy or orthomolecular medicine (pseudoscientific terms to sound like they are based on real science), seems to work on the unscientific belief that if a little helps, a whole boatload will help a lot more. Most of these ideas have been debunked and are considered quackery and fads.

I wanted to take a look at vitamin D, from it’s actual benefits to health to the possible dangers from supplementation.

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Green coffee beans and weight loss–another dumb myth

dr-oz-green-coffee-beansIf you’re a fan of the Dr. Oz show, you might have heard about his passionate support of green coffee beans, which are just unroasted coffee beans instead of the roasted ones we enjoy in a big mug, for losing weight. In America, weight loss pseudoscience, especially those who claim it’s “easy”, is an obsession, especially since since the country is experiencing an obesity epidemic.

Sadly, Americans are always seeking easy, simple, but effective ways to lose weight that don’t require them to change any behavior at all. In other words, let us eat our Big Macs and never exercise while taking a miracle pill, which makes us maintain a perfect Body Mass Index. If that existed, someone would make more money than the next iPhone.

But let’s focus on those green coffee beans.

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Time to regulate the antivaccine liars out of existence, Part 1

Miracle-cureThis week, Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of  the Law in San Francisco, guest wrote an article on this blog (and I’m grateful when she does) regarding the possibility of using the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), whose principal mission is the promotion of consumer protection, to regulate or block antivaccine misinformation.

The process to request that the FTC investigate these individuals is relatively easy. And it’s time to change the discussion about vaccines, and make certain that those individuals who make money from lying about vaccines are blocked from doing so.

Pressure from pro-science/pro-vaccine on the Australian state of New South Wales led to an order that Meryl Dorey’s “Australian Vaccination Network (AVN)” must change its name since it “is likely to mislead the public in relation to the nature, objects or functions of AVN.” The core of the argument was that AVN was and continues to be strictly antivaccination, and it’s name seemed to imply it was something else. Continue reading “Time to regulate the antivaccine liars out of existence, Part 1”

Vitamin supplements do not lower risk of cancer and heart disease

pile-of-supplementsVitamin and mineral supplements are important to maintaining proper levels of these nutrients when they aren’t obtained from the diet. Generally, if a human consumes a diet of broad based foods, there is little need for supplementation, unless they are afflicted with a chronic medical disorder which requires additional nutrients.

Vitamins and minerals do not have an impact on the immune system. Numerous articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals that have found very little evidence that supplements can lower risk of heart disease or one of the over 200 forms of cancer. What we need next, in the hierarchy of scientific evidence, is a systematic review published in an important journal.

And we got one. Continue reading “Vitamin supplements do not lower risk of cancer and heart disease”

Weight loss remedies that are just plain pseudoscience

The worlds best weight loss system.

Here comes weight-loss pseudoscience-often appearing in spam, the Dr. Oz show, or random google search. Weight loss pseudoscience, especially those who claim it’s “easy”, are an American obsession, especially since since the country is experiencing an obesity epidemic. Americans are always seeking easy, simple, but effective ways to lose weight that don’t require them to change any behavior at all. In other words, let us eat our Big Macs and never exercise while taking a miracle pill, while maintaining a perfect Body Mass Index. If that existed, whoever sold it would be richer than Bill Gates. 

Recently, two junk science weight-loss treatments have been hitting the public consciousness–raspberry ketones and green coffee beans. Dr. Oz, who despite a solid education in science-based medicine, and has taken to promoting everything from homeopathy to Joe Mercola‘s various lunatic cures, has been pushing both of these weight loss non-working treatments to his audience. Or if you have a bad spam filter, I’m sure you’ve seen the emails promoting these two supplements.

But are they effective? Let’s check.

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