Contaminated supplements – spiked with potentially dangerous ingredients

contaminated supplements

The supplement industry is huge and unregulated. Americans spend more than $30 billion annually on them, yet contaminated supplements are part of the industry’s method to make their mostly useless products appear to have some clinical effect.

There is growing evidence that these contaminated supplements contain unlabeled ingredients that are found in regulated pharmaceuticals – all without telling the consumer about them. Or testing them. Or listing warnings for their use.

As I’ve written many times, supplements are basically worthless, unless you have specific chronic medical conditions or suffer from chronic malnutrition that prevents you from receiving enough micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals. In addition, those on highly restrictive diets, like vegans or those who have had weight-loss surgery, may require supplementation, although both could be considered “chronic medical conditions.”

For example, in modern prenatal care, the pregnant mother is urged to take folic acid supplements to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in the developing fetus. But after the pregnancy is over, folic acid is no longer needed – in fact, continued use of folic acid may actually increase the risk of some forms of cancer, in individuals who have no medical need for the supplement.

Because a lot of people favor confirmation bias as their go-to argument, I constantly hear, “hey Skeptical Raptor, vitamin C prevents scurvy, ergo all supplements are the greatest thing we can consume.” Scurvy is fairly rare these days in developed countries, but it can happen especially to smokers since cigarette smoke inhibits uptake of vitamin C (and another reason not to smoke).

So unless your diet only includes steak, ice cream, and junk food, an average American or European will get more than adequate amounts of vitamin C from their diet. Anyone deficient in vitamin C could be considered to be malnourished, and, of course, they will benefit from a vitamin C supplement. But vitamin C does not prevent colds, flu, or cancer. It is not a miracle vitamin, despite the oft-debunked claims of the pseudoscience-based supplement proponents.

Despite the utter lack of or weak evidence of the usefulness of supplements, unsurprisingly, over half of all Americans take dietary supplements. I guess chronic malnutrition and medical conditions afflict over half of Americans. The facts are that human needs for nutrients, like vitamins, are more than adequately met by a broad, healthy diet that includes a lot of fruits and vegetables.

But there’s more bad news, and it’s more than just overpriced, mostly useless products. It’s that contaminated supplements are widespread in this industry.  Continue reading “Contaminated supplements – spiked with potentially dangerous ingredients”

Gluten-free foods for children – are they actually healthy?

gluten free

There are many food and nutritional fads floating around the internet that have limited scientific or medical evidence supporting their nutritional usefulness. One of them is the gluten-free diet that has become one of the most prevalent, and annoying, food crazes.

Of course, parents who buy into these fads often include their children. And it’s been the same for the gluten-free obsession. But are gluten-free foods “healthy” for children? Lucky for us, a new study has looked into it. And I am going to look into that study. Continue reading “Gluten-free foods for children – are they actually healthy?”

Coffee health benefits – will not save your life, but it is safe and delicious

coffee health benefits

I am an admitted coffee aficionado. I love the taste. I love the warmth. No, I don’t drink those maddening caramel strawberry double shot nonfat iced frappucinos – I like my coffee hot with a splash of cream and some very safe aspartame. Nevertheless, I’ve never thought much about coffee health advantages – it never seemed relevant to me.

I remember directing a clinical trial at a large teaching hospital in Seattle, WA back in the late 1980s, and there was a Starbucks kiosk in the lobby. I know most of you would think “what’s so great about that?” But, it was nearly 30 years ago, and Starbucks wasn’t a thing that it is today – I know some coffee snobs hate them, but 30 years ago, good coffee was unknown to most of the USA. Well, unless you lived in Seattle, apparently.

That kiosk started my love of coffee. I tried different coffee makers and methods of brewing coffee. Over the years, I’ve settled on a French press (as it is known in Canada and the USA, a coffee plunger in Australia and New Zealand, or a cafetière in France and the UK) for my coffee, which probably makes me a coffee snob.

I’ve written about the coffee health effects previously. And, in August 2018, a new paper was published that seemed to indicate that drinking lots of coffee lowered your risk of mortality. And, of course, websites across the internet chimed in with the great news. But did it really say that? Of course, your coffee-addicted ancient dinosaur will take a look.  Continue reading “Coffee health benefits – will not save your life, but it is safe and delicious”

Mediterranean diet could prolong life of elderly – solid supporting evidence

Mediterranean diet

In general, I’m unconvinced about fad diets, unless there is some really powerful published evidence in support. And those are rare. However, I think that there is some good evidence that the Mediterranean diet may be valuable to improving outcomes for several outcomes like cardiovascular diseases. Now we see that there is moderate evidence that the Mediterranean diet could add years to the life of the elderly.

There is a new study published that examines whether the Mediterranean diet could prolong the life of the elderly. Let’s take a look. Continue reading “Mediterranean diet could prolong life of elderly – solid supporting evidence”

Supplements for cardiovascular diseases – more evidence that they don’t work

supplements for cardiovascular diseases

I have been skeptical of supplements for a long time – not because I have some predisposition against them. My skepticism results from the relative lack of any robust evidence that supplements have any positive effect on human health other than in unique situations of chronic diseases or malnutrition. In fact, most of the high-quality evidence about supplements show that it does not work. And a recently published review shows that using supplements for cardiovascular diseases are expensive and useless.

Since many readers fail to read what I wrote above, let me repeat myself for clarity. Supplements are not completely useless – of course, they are important for those who have chronic diseases or conditions may require supplements of some or many micronutrients. Someone who has had bariatric surgery or other types of serious gastrointestinal surgery may not be able to consume enough vitamins and minerals from food, and they will require multivitamins.

Also, some individuals may be malnourished, which doesn’t mean just not eating enough, but not eating some foods that have specific nutrients. For example, avoiding certain foods that contain vitamin C could put you at risk for a disease called scurvy, which can be deadly. There are several other diseases that result from missing key nutrients. However, in the modern developed world, these diseases are extremely rare because of the varied diet we have – and the availability of supplements to treat those diseases.

However, several points have got to be made. Just because vitamin C can treat scurvy doesn’t mean that more vitamin C makes your immune system suddenly powerful enough to destroy the common cold or flu or cure cancer. Vitamin D, although there are many cases of deficiency in many countries, is not a miracle supplement. It cannot cure or prevent cancer. It does not impart superpower abilities to your immune system.

The whole supplement industry has an overreliance on logical fallacies (like appeal to popular belief or appeal antiquity) or anecdotes (which aren’t data) to convince customers to buy their nonsense. They do this because they are not required to undergo gold-standard clinical trials to convince the FDA to approve their claims. Real pharmaceuticals, on the other hand, take 10-20 years of research and clinical trials before they are approved for use.

Big Supplement (yeah, it’s a huge industry, over US$100 billion annually, worldwide) also pushes the trope that if a little helps, a lot is better. This is not good science. The millions of years of human evolution (following up a billion years of immune system evolution) has led to a rather powerful immune system that is exceedingly complex and has always been able to do its job without the addition of supplements (unless early Homo sapiens had access to a GNC someplace).

But let’s take a look at supplements for cardiovascular diseases (stroke, heart attacks, and other cardiovascular conditions) – a new review shows us, once again, that there’s nothing there. Continue reading “Supplements for cardiovascular diseases – more evidence that they don’t work”

Omega-3 supplements have little effect on cardiovascular disease and mortality

omega-3 supplements

I have been skeptical of supplements for a long period of time. 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 there is a powerful review of omega-3 supplements that shows that it has little effect on cardiovascular disease.

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, vitamin C to prevent scurvy, and vitamin D supplements for individuals who do not produce enough endogenous vitamin D. In each of these cases, however, supplements are necessary to counteract a micronutrient deficiency that results from a chronic deficiency in the diet.

The benefits of omega-3 supplements have always been intriguing to me because it is a supplement that I thought might be useful for improving cardiovascular health. But as I reviewed before, the evidence seemed awfully weak. With this new study, there may be no evidence whatsoever supporting the use of omega-3 supplements, at least for cardiovascular disease. Continue reading “Omega-3 supplements have little effect on cardiovascular disease and mortality”

MSG myth – debunked with real science

msg myth

Food additives are one of the most passionate issues amongst people who eat (which would be everyone). AspartameHigh fructose corn syrup. GMO‘s. Salt. Sugar. Trans fats. Polysorbate 80. But the MSG myth is one of the most pervasive in the food pseudoscience world (yes, I’m going to make that a thing).

Of course, these additives cause angst in people because of their scary chemical names. Or nonsense on the internet. Or random neurons firing.

Obviously, there is stuff, created by the beauty of natural sunlight and goddess blessed sweet waters from the Alps, that is better than these man-made evil chemicals. Well, no. Everything in nature is made up of “chemistry” –  25-hydroxyergocalciferol is a scary chemical name, right? Except it’s the metabolic product of the conversion of vitamin D in the human liver. It’s natural!

But let’s get back to MSG – how many times have you seen “No MSG” in a sign Chinese restaurant? Is it because China, who has been using MSG in their cuisine for centuries, has been conspiring against Americans since the first Chinese restaurant starting serving up kung pao chicken to unaware Americans?

It’s time to look at the MSG myth – is it real, or does it need a good debunking?

Continue reading “MSG myth – debunked with real science”

Sugar causes diabetes? Another one of those myths that makes no sense

sugar causes diabetes

One of the most pernicious myths about food is that somehow eating sugar causes diabetes. I even was watching a TV comedy where the character was going to dig into a cake, and another character says, “I’m getting diabetes (see Note 1) just by watching all of that sugar.”

No. Sugar is not linked directly to diabetes, so sure go ahead, eat that delicious, rich, sweet chocolate birthday cake. However (see Note 2), there might be some very indirect links between eating too much sugar and diabetes, but not as a result of eating sugar alone.

Moreover, another myth is that all diabetes is the same. They’re not. Let’s take a look at diabetes and the lack of direct evidence that sugar causes diabetes. Continue reading “Sugar causes diabetes? Another one of those myths that makes no sense”

Mediterranean diet and cardiovascular diseases study retracted – “aw nuts”

mediterranean diet

Although I think that most diets are bogus and healthy outcomes are not very well supported by scientific research, I have been a proponent of the so-called Mediterranean diet. It seems to have been linked to lower risks of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and some other chronic health conditions.

The claims of researchers who stated that the so-called Mediterranean diet, rich in plants, olive oil, fish, nuts, and other foods, was linked to lower risks of cardiovascular disease. It was a pivotal and robust cohort study, a powerful form of epidemiological study that sits near the top of the hierarchy of medical research, that influenced a lot of recommendations about the proper diet for people. The study was so powerful that I switched to that diet personally.

But lucky for the planet, science is self-correcting, and some aspects of the original study caused concerns, and the Mediterranean diet study was retracted and republished with corrections.

Does this mean that the Mediterranean diet was and is bogus? No, but let’s take a look at the whole story. Continue reading “Mediterranean diet and cardiovascular diseases study retracted – “aw nuts””

Celiac disease is not caused by modern wheat, despite internet claims

celiac disease

Although this blog focuses on vaccines, there are really so many myths and tropes on the internet that are based on the misunderstanding of science, on pseudoscience, or just plain ignorance. One of those myths is that human meddling in plant genetics, which led to modern wheat, is the root cause of all gluten sensitivity, including celiac disease.

Of course, the quack medicine world has vastly overrated the “dangers” of gluten – those with real gluten issues, with properly diagnosed celiac disease and wheat allergies, represent less than 1% of the population. The internet quacks also have no understanding of real gluten sensitivity – it’s an on/off switch. With some relatively rare exceptions, gluten causes significant symptoms in those with gluten sensitivity, not vague feelings. And there’s no dose-response curve – a tiny amount has almost the same effect as a large amount of gluten.

Although I doubt it will have any effect on these anti-gluten food fads, a new peer-reviewed paper in a respected journal clear shows that that modern wheat is not responsible for celiac disease. Gluten from 2018 probably is the same as the gluten in wheat when it was first domesticated 12,000 years ago.

Let’s take a look at celiac disease, wheat, gluten, and the paper. I hope it makes sense. Continue reading “Celiac disease is not caused by modern wheat, despite internet claims”