Vitamin D supplements – evidence for clinical effectiveness and safety

Vitamin D supplements

The claims about the usefulness of vitamin D supplements are all over the internet. And they seem trendy, as most pseudoscientific claims are these days.

The purpose of this article is to review some of the old and new information about vitamin D supplements. It’s about scientific articles that either support or refute a claim, that’s it. It’s not about what we believe or we do not believe, it’s about evidence.

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

On the other hand, 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 the science of vitamin D supplements while examining its actual benefits to health compared to the possible dangers of excess supplementation.

Continue reading “Vitamin D supplements – evidence for clinical effectiveness and safety”

Fried food increases cardiovascular mortality risk – sorry KFC

fried foods

As part of my ongoing series of articles that review interesting new studies, this week, I’m going to look at a new study that shows that fried food may be linked to increased risks of death from cardiovascular disease.

Now, some of you may be scratching your head and saying, “I’m sorry ye old feathered dinosaur, but tell me something I don’t know.” That’s the thing about science, we may think we know that eating a bucket of fried chicken or fish and chips is “bad” for you, but we can’t be sure until we have published studies that give us statistically powerful results.

Despite the beliefs by nearly everyone, including physicians, that fried food is directly linked to cardiovascular disease, studies have been inconclusive in establishing that link. A recent large prospective cohort study in Europe showed no link between fried food and coronary heart disease. The link between fried food and anything is hardly settled science, despite the conventional wisdom.

And since nearly 25-36% of Americans consume fast food, which presumably includes a lot of fried food, researchers wanted to reduce as many confounders as possible by narrowing the study group to women of a certain age.

And that’s what we have from a new study published in January 2019. Let’s take a look at the study and discuss what it may mean. Continue reading “Fried food increases cardiovascular mortality risk – sorry KFC”

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”

Debunking the claim that vaccines kill people using real scientific evidence

Vaccines kill

The anecdotal beliefs from the anti-vaccine religion that vaccines kill babies, children, and adults (warning, the link is from Natural News, one the worst websites for scientific credibility) is frustrating. Dorit Rubinstein Reiss and I have written two articles, about Nick Catone and Colton Berrett, that refute parental claims that vaccines killed their children. Those boys deaths were tragic, but according to the best evidence we have, neither were the result of vaccines.

Deaths attributed to vaccines are often not causally related. It may feel like one event that follows another event is related, which is the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. There may not be any correlation, let alone causality, that would make us accept that vaccines kill.

Those of us who accept the fact that vaccines are very safe, and indeed, not really a risk for causing death, have found no evidence that there has been a single death attributed to vaccines over the past couple of decades. But that’s just examining the high quality scientific and medical literature, which may or may not be 100% inclusive of all post-vaccination mortality.

Now, I’ve always contended that there is no evidence that there has ever been a death attributed to vaccines. I never agreed with the old adage that “science can’t prove a negative,” but I do think that the burden of proof is on those making that claim. Where is the evidence of a link between vaccines and mortality? Sometimes, the absence of evidence can be evidence of absence, Carl Sagan’s claims notwithstanding, especially if we look very carefully for that evidence.

Let’s move on to this pivotal study in our understanding of whether vaccines kill. They don’t.

Continue reading “Debunking the claim that vaccines kill people using real scientific evidence”

Cancer mortality rate – good news, it’s the lowest in 25 years

cancer mortality rate

There are two tropes about cancer that seem to be accepted as facts. First, cancer is a modern disease, unknown to previous generations. And second, the cancer mortality rate is increasing because of the usual suspects, from GMOs to whatever. This is a good thing about science, there’s actually evidence that gives us a different image.

If you use Google as your source for cancer facts, you’d think that we have a raging epidemic of the disease, killing more people today than just a few years ago. But the facts say something else – the cancer mortality rate declined from 1975 to 2012 in the USA in one study, and that it was the lowest since 1991 in another study. By any reasonable examination of data, we are actually winning the war on cancer in the USA.

The myth that the cancer mortality rate is increasing, along with the trope that Big Pharma and oncologists make more money by not providing real treatments for cancer are completely debunked by this data. The cancer-woo pushers probably are saddened by what we’re learning about cancer, but it certainly provides us with excellent data that science is beating cancer. Sure, we aren’t at the point of curing all 200 or so cancers that afflict humans, but we’re doing better than we were 10, 20, 30 or 40 years ago.

Except for liver cancer bucking the trend. We’ll look into that too.

I’m certain that the reason for the lower cancer incidence and mortality rates are complicated. It’s possible that people are starting to embrace the handful of science-based preventions to cancer – like reducing smoking. It’s also better medications from Big Pharma. And better science-based treatment options for cancer. Cancer treatment has evolved massively in just 3-4 decades. I’m sure if you spoke to an oncologist today, and queried him about techniques from the 1970s, he or she would just cringe.

Let’s look at these studies that gave us this data. And maybe we can put to rest some of the memes about cancer ravishing modern humans.

Continue reading “Cancer mortality rate – good news, it’s the lowest in 25 years”

Properly evaluating vaccine mortality – let’s not abuse VAERS

vaccine mortality

The public’s concern about adverse events, especially death, immediately or soon after vaccinations is very disruptive to vaccine uptake, leading to increased morbidity and mortality of vaccine-preventable diseases. For example, a 2009 Japanese study that showed 107 deaths following H1N1 influenza A vaccination, assumed a causality between the vaccine and the deaths without any evaluation of background rates of of deaths, which would help indicate whether there was any significance to the death rate or even if its related to the vaccination. Vaccine mortality is one of the most abused terms in discussions about vaccines.

It has been demonstrated that passively reported data, that is, data that isn’t actively investigated by trained researchers, cannot be used to assess causality. In an active investigation, it was found that only 2 of the 107 deaths had an autopsy performed, and most of the others had other underlying diseases and conditions that were causally related to the mortality events. Furthermore, 15 million people were vaccinated with the H1N1 seasonal vaccine, and it would be expected that there would be >8000 deaths during the 20 days after vaccination using a crude mortality rate in Japan. Though it would still be a misuse of statistics,  there really is more evidence that the H1N1 vaccination lowered the background death rate from 8000 to 107 post vaccination. Continue reading “Properly evaluating vaccine mortality – let’s not abuse VAERS”

This Papa is scared of the shmeasles measles

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in June 2014. It has been revised and updated to improve readability and correct and update some information

This is 2014. We have sent people to the moon. I can be in contact with people from Australia, Germany, Israel, or someone a few blocks away from me (whom I’ve never actually met in person) without stepping away from my computer. I can see photos of my lovely and brilliant daughters, without having to thumb through an album with fading Kodak photographs.

And you know what else? Our modern medicine can prevent measles: in 2000, it was declared non-endemic in the United States, meaning that there were no wild measles viruses floating around the USA. It was considered one of the great public health victories, along with eliminating smallpox and polio (almost, give it a year or so).

But now measles is coming back. In 2014, the United States is seeing the highest number of cases since 1994. It’s in the few hundreds at this point, but that’s way more than before and the trend is worrying. In the past years, Europe had seen tens of thousands of cases of measles, along with numerous hospitalizations and death. This is unnecessary suffering: we have an extremely effective and safe vaccine against measles. But like brakes, seatbelts, and bulletproof vests, it tends not to work as well if you don’t use it.

Thanks to anti-vaccine misinformation, the rate of vaccination against the measles has dropped slightly. Problematically, the decline in vaccination isn’t evenly distributed across the country, pockets of unvaccinated occur in various locations, where just a child who picks up the disease in a foreign country can quickly spread it through a community. Continue reading “This Papa is scared of the shmeasles measles”

Why we vaccinate–saving children’s lives from meningitis

Autopsy specimen of brain infected with Streptococcus pneumoniae meningitis.
Autopsy specimen of brain infected with Streptococcus pneumoniae meningitis.

One of the enduring zombie tropes of the antivaccination cult is that pathogens aren’t dangerous because the disease is not dangerous. Through a complicated, and thoroughly unsupported by evidence, revision of immunology to fit their needs, they think that kids with healthy immune systems don’t require vaccines, because their super immune systems, strengthened with homeopathic water and a handful of vitamins, will never succumb to diseases. In their arrogance, and pseudoscience beliefs, they think their kids have superior immune systems that can only be harmed by vaccines.

Of course, their beliefs are unsupported by anything in science, just putting children at harm. Plus we have evidence of how avoiding key vaccinations do put children at danger.

For a little background, meningitis is a disease caused by the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges. The inflammation is usually caused by an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The disease may develop in response to a number of causes, usually bacteria or viruses, but it can also be caused by physical injury, cancer or certain drugs. While most people with meningitis recover, it can cause serious complications, such as brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disabilities. Continue reading “Why we vaccinate–saving children’s lives from meningitis”

Reports of vaccine related effects can be useful

 

©KenRockwell.com, 2007. Photographer's son actually receiving RotaTeq vaccine and giving a smile to Paul Offit for keeping him from ever getting a rotavirus infection.
©KenRockwell.com, 2007. Photographer’s son actually receiving RotaTeq vaccine and giving a smile to Paul Offit for keeping him from ever getting a rotavirus infection.

Vaccine deniers, especially in the USA, use the passive data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a system where individuals can report supposed adverse events post-vaccination, to “prove” certain adverse events. The data is considered to be “passive” because the individual reports can be made online, by fax or by mail–real causal events may be underreported and hyped, imaginary issues with no causality, can be over-reported. However, without medical investigations of causality between the vaccination and the claimed adverse events that are reported to the VAERS database, the data have no real value.

Frankly, VAERS can be gamed by those with nefarious intentions. In reality, VAERS is a feel-good system for those who think that there’s a link between vaccines and something terrible, but without an active investigation, the data is just above the level of being totally meaningless. Most epidemiologists know it is valueless. Even the VAERS system itself says that the data cannot be used to ascertain the difference between coincidence and true causality.

Furthermore, there is a background rate for mortality (death) or morbidity (abnormal medical condition), across all causes, irrespective of whether an individual is vaccinated or not, and unless you understand the background rate, the vaccine “mortality” rate has no scientific meaning. In fact, we could provide data that shows anything might cause any adverse medical event, like playing video games leads to prostate cancer, but we would have no evidence of any type of causality whatsoever. Continue reading “Reports of vaccine related effects can be useful”