Early death by vitamins? Or dubious research methods?

Top health news on the BBC website today is an article about a research review by researchers in Copenhagen suggesting that vitamins A and E increased the rate of early death. The article is good. Go read it, but make sure you read the whole thing. Read how they carried out the review and how they selected the research to be included. First they took 68 trials, added them together to get a result that suggested that vitamins had no impact on the risk of early death. Then they took out 21 trials that they thought ‘had a slightly higher possibility of producing a skewed result’ and guess what…

the results the suggest that A and E may increase the risk of early death.

I have a lot of difficulty with this kind of research review:

  • There is no new research.
  • Trials can be cherry picked and results manipulated.
  • The trials may not be compatible or comparable – for example one trial may use healthy people and others may use ill people.

At the end of the BBC article there is a response from Dr Ann Walker of the Health Supplements Service who also thinks the study is “worthless” because some of the trials involved patients who were seriously ill.
“How sensible scientists can suggest that a modest intervention of a single antioxidant supplement, can have a major effect in reversing life-threatening pathology, where patients already have advanced cardiovascular disease, is ridiculous.

“Vitamin, mineral and dietary supplements not only have proven health benefits, they are essential to the maintenance of good health and can help bridge the nutritional gap for many people in the UK whose diets are often lacking in essential nutrients.”

It’s up to you to make an informed decision about your health.

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