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

big supplement

I occasionally have to defend vaccine profits (or the lack thereof), but everyone seems to ignore Big Supplement profits which are far larger than vaccine profits. And vaccines have real science backing them, which is not a statement you can make about Big Supplement.

Let’s take a moment and look at the revenues and profits of Big Pharma (and a bit of Big Vaccine) 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.

Continue reading “Big supplement profits – making boatloads of money in the name of pseudoscience”

Vitamin D supplements — evidence about safety and effectiveness

vitamin D supplements

The claims about the usefulness of vitamin D supplements are all over the internet. And they seem trendy, especially with COVID-19, even though much of the evidence is extraordinarily weak.

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 someone has 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), seem to work on the unscientific belief that if a little dose helps, a whole boatload dose 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 their actual benefits to health compared to the possible dangers of excess supplementation.

Continue reading “Vitamin D supplements — evidence about safety and effectiveness”

Vitamin D deficiency could increase susceptibility to severe COVID

spilled bottle of yellow capsule pills

A new study seems to indicate that individuals with vitamin D deficiencies are more susceptible to severe COVID-19 outcomes. This does not mean that lots of vitamin D can prevent COVID-19 or prevent severe COVID in people with normal vitamin D levels, but it does indicate that this could be an easy way to reduce the risk of severe COVID-19.

I know I have a reputation of being “anti-supplement,” but I usually always write “supplements are useless unless there is a chronic medical condition that requires the supplement.” If you’re not getting any vitamin C in your diet, you can be at risk of scurvy, so taking vitamin C supplements is appropriate. If you are pregnant, folic acid supplements are important to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in your fetus.

The evidence for vitamin D and COVID-19 has been all over the place. Sometimes, I feel that vitamin D is the new great supplement to treat everything. I tend to be skeptical of supplements because they are overhyped. And too many people believe if a small amount does this, then a whole bunch of the supplement ought to boost your immune system or something. All it does is make us have very expensive urine.

Let’s take a look at this new paper. I think it sets out an evidence-based understanding of what vitamin D may do to reduce the risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes.

Continue reading “Vitamin D deficiency could increase susceptibility to severe COVID”

Virus treatments quackery – what not to take for flu, colds, or COVID-19

cold comfort cover cute

It’s that time of year when we are bombarded by virus treatments for everything from the flu and colds to COVID-19. The quackery includes things like “immune-boosting” miracle supplements to junk that “cures” every single virus known to medical science.

This article will attempt to debunk the myths of virus treatments such as “boosting the immune system,” magical supplements, and other nonsense involved with the world of flu treatment pseudoscience.

Of course, the best way to prevent the flu or COVID-19 is to get the vaccines. And since these vaccines are free, it’s infinitely cheaper than fake, useless virus treatments.

Continue reading “Virus treatments quackery – what not to take for flu, colds, or COVID-19”

Do supplements prevent cancer or heart disease? No evidence

Do supplements prevent cancer or heart disease

One of the undying beliefs of some people is that a handful of expensive supplements prevent cancer and heart disease. Outside of a few cases where there is a diagnosed medical need for supplements, the only result of taking them is very expensive urine.

I’ve written a lot about various supplements and their potential to treat or prevent cancer and heart disease, and the evidence is sorely lacking. There are good ways to prevent cancer, like not smoking and getting the HPV vaccine, but not a single one of them includes swallowing a bunch of vitamins.

Recently, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued draft recommendations on supplements – they were unable to give a single recommendation to any of the supplements that they examined. And as we do here, let’s take a look at what they wrote.

Continue reading “Do supplements prevent cancer or heart disease? No evidence”

Vitamin D treatment for COVID-19 – the evidence is really weak

Two recent papers have been published recently that seem to support that vitamin D does something to prevent or treat COVID-19. Except for a tiny little problem – both of the studies terribly weak and are unconvincing except to those who just want supplements to do something to end this pandemic. Don’t get your hopes too high.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused interest in vitamin D to skyrocket, because there has been a belief that vitamin D improves the immune system against the disease. The sales of vitamin D supplements have increased substantially since pre-pandemic times.

But is there any evidence supporting its use to prevent COVID-19 or improve outcomes for serious cases? Yes, there is evidence, but it’s far from convincing. There are better ways to prevent a COVID-19 infection, and vitamin D is not one of them.

Continue reading “Vitamin D treatment for COVID-19 – the evidence is really weak”

Vitamin D for coronavirus – not a cure or prevention for coronavirus, but…

vitamin d for coronavirus

The internet was flooded recently with reports that vitamin D for coronavirus may be either a treatment or prevention. Or it may reduce the severity of COVID-19. 

But what does the real data say? Does it say that there is a solid benefit of vitamin D for coronavirus? Is there strong evidence that it can help prevent or treat COVID-19?

The answer is complicated. This is why I am annoyed by science journalists – they don’t critically analyze the underlying science published in peer-reviewed journals. It’s almost like the whole hydroxychloroquine fiasco – latch onto weak evidence and make outlandish claims.

So let’s look at a few recent studies about vitamin D for coronavirus. Continue reading “Vitamin D for coronavirus – not a cure or prevention for coronavirus, but…”

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”

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:

Vitamin D and high blood pressure–probably ineffective

supplementsVitamin D is a group of fat-soluble steroid-like biochemicals that have one known responsibility in human health–enhancing intestinal absorption of calcium and phosphate, minerals which are necessary for bone development and bone health. In humans, the most important D vitamins are vitamin D3 and vitamin D2, both of which can be ingested from dietary sources, including fishes, milk products, and many other foods. However, the body can synthesize vitamin D’s in the skin when exposure to sunlight is adequate. Because humans can produce their own vitamin D, it is not strictly considered an essential dietary vitamin, which are vitamins that cannot be synthesized in sufficient quantities by an organism, and must be obtained from its diet.

Even though supplementation is necessary for people who aren’t receiving adequate levels of vitamin D through either sun exposure or diet, excessive intake of the vitamin causes a condition called hypervitaminosis D. Excessive vitamin D can lead to acute problems, like excess thirst or increased urination, but over a long-term can lead to heart disease and other chronic conditions.  

Despite the understanding that vitamin D has only one real function, regulation of calcium and phosphate uptake, that hasn’t stopped the junk medicine pushers from making all sorts of claims about its usefulness in human health. In fact, recent studies have shown that vitamin D doesn’t reduce the risk of breast cancer, one of the more popular myths about the vitamin. Continue reading “Vitamin D and high blood pressure–probably ineffective”