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.

 

Continue reading “Benefits of omega 3 fish oil – something’s fishy”

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.

Continue reading “Vitamin D review – another overrated supplement?”

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.

Continue reading “Green coffee beans and weight loss–another dumb myth”

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.

Continue reading “Weight loss remedies that are just plain pseudoscience”

Vitamin D supplements–improves bone health or a waste of money?

Natural sources of vitamin D.
Natural sources of vitamin D.

Lots of people take vitamin D supplements to keep their bones strong as they age, advice that is pushed by legitimate organizations, like the National Osteoporosis Foundation. But does vitamin D actually do anything, or are their effects some kind of myth? 

A group of researchers in New Zealand examined previous clinical trials involving vitamin D supplements to determine if they actually helped improved bone density, a critical measure of bone strength and health. Their meta-review of the data was recently published in the Lancet.

The researchers determined that vitamin D supplements did not usually increase bone density for people who already had normal levels of vitamin D. Although bone density did improve in the femur, the longest and heaviest bone in the human skeleton, all other bones did not exhibit a higher density after vitamin D.

The systematic review included 23 previously published studies (comprising a total of 4082 participants, 92% women, average age 59 years) who received vitamin D supplementation over an average of 23.5 months. Bone mineral density was measured at one to five sites (lumbar vertebrae, femoral neck, total hip, trochanter, total body, or forearm) in each study.

The studies included in the review had differing vitamin D supplementation regimens. The vitamin D dosages, as well as the length of the treatment, varied across. On average, 500 IU (international unit, with each unit being the biological equivalent of 0.025 μg cholecalciferol/ergocalciferol) was the daily dose in six of the studies, 500-799 IU was used in four studies, and 800 IU or more was used in 13 studies.

Across all of the studies, 70 tests of statistical significance were performed. Of the 70, six had findings of significant benefit of vitamin D supplementation, two showed significant detriment, and the rest, 62, show no significant benefit or detriment. Of all the studies, only one showed a benefit at more than one bone site. And more supplementation did not show any benefit, so there was not a dose-reponse effect.

Most importantly, of the studies that did report improvement in bone density, the finding was not significant enough to prevent a bone from fracturing after a fall. Surprisingly, the researchers also discovered that doses of less than 800 IU per day were more effective for improving bone density in the spine.

The researchers concluded that “continuing widespread use of vitamin D for osteoporosis prevention in community-dwelling adults without specific risk factors for vitamin D deficiency seems to be inappropriate.” In other words, the evidence does not support the hypothesis taking vitamin D provided a benefit of increased bone density in individuals who already had healthy levels of vitamin D–supplementing with vitamin D was not necessary for most adults over the age of 55. Moreover, the researchers recommended that healthcare providers should target individuals who may not be getting sufficient vitamin D naturally, such as through exposure to sunlight, with either vitamin D supplementation or sunlight therapy. 

To answer the original question? Yes, vitamin D supplementation is a waste of money, unless there specific issues that would indicate that it would be useful, such as in individuals who do not make sufficient vitamin D naturally. And no, more vitamin D does not help.

Key citations:

Cinnamon to manage diabetes? Don’t bother.

diabetes-cinnamon

This article has been substantially updated for readability and quality of evidence based on new publications. 

People 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. Or put in the discipline or effort to reverse a chronic disease. If all that was not true, we probably wouldn’t 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 of these supplements were supported by real science, physicians and Big Pharma would be unnecessary.

One of the diseases for which everyone is searching for a panacea is diabetes. It is essentially a disease of blood glucose management and is really several, unrelated diseases. Type 1 diabetes mellitus, once known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, results from a lack of insulin production by the pancreas. Until insulin was discovered and isolated, type 1 diabetes was essentially a death sentence. And today, with bioengineered human insulin (until the 1980’s, when recombinant DNA insulin was manufactured, insulin was purified from pigs), patients can live relatively normal, healthy lives with type 1 diabetes. Most individuals contract the disease in childhood, although one form, latent autoimmune diabetes of adults (LADA) is very similar to Type 1 diabetes, but the autoimmune disease strikes well after the common ages of Type 1. It is still treated with insulin. Continue reading “Cinnamon to manage diabetes? Don’t bother.”

Ginkgo biloba and the brain–myth vs. science

ginkgo-health-benefits-bullshitGinkgo biloba is actually an interesting plant because it has been relatively unchanged for nearly 270 million years. It is considered a living fossil, an informal term used for species like G. biloba that appear to be the same as a species otherwise only known from fossils and which has no close living relatives. The genus Ginkgo was fairly widely distributed until about 100 million years ago. It slowly disappeared from the fossil record until it was found only in one small part of China about 5 million years ago, where it is found today.  

The tree is native to China and is known to have been widely cultivated early in human history. It is used as a food source by various Asian cultures, with the Chinese eating the meaty gametophytes and the Japanese the whole seed. Unfortunately, the seed also contains a chemical, 4′-O-methylpyridoxine, that can be poisonous if consumed in a sufficiently large enough quantity.  Continue reading “Ginkgo biloba and the brain–myth vs. science”

“Natural” supplements are filled with dangerous junk

When Big Pharma develops a new prescription medication, the regulatory authorities, such as the US FDA, set regulatory guidelines for not only the claims made by the company but also for the manufacturing standards. Every ingredient used to manufacture a pill or injectable must be listed in the package insert and must be tested during the three or phases of clinical trials.

©Daily Mail UK, 2013
©Daily Mail UK, 2013

 

In general, if a pharmaceutical company makes any changes to the ingredients, even something as simple as a binder in the pill, it must re-file with the regulatory authorities for clearance to do so. Even if a manufacturer changes equipment or a process, without changing the the ingredients, it is required to file those changes with the FDA, and they may not proceed with the change. 

The same is not true of so called “natural health products.” In fact, according to a study published in BMC Medicinethe majority of herbal products on the market contain ingredients that are not listed on the product’s label. Furthermore, these companies (let’s call them Big Herbal) often substitute some of the ingredients with cheaper, untested alternatives and fillers. Continue reading ““Natural” supplements are filled with dangerous junk”