So are you about to die if you take an antioxidant vitamin supplement, such as A, C and E? A study that has been pounced on by the world's media suggests you may. It says that not only do the vitamins not make you healthier or help you live longer, they may even shorten your life.
The study looked at 67 medical trials, involving 232,550 people, most of whom were taking a high-dose antioxidant because they had a health problem, such as heart disease, gastrointestinal ailments or neurological complaints.
Overall, 13.1 per cent of participants who were taking an antioxidant died, compared with 10.5 per cent of deaths among those who were either taking a placebo or no nutritional.
As a result, say the researchers, vitamins must be more carefully controlled, and their use restricted.
This is just the news that opponents of the booming nutritionals industry wanted to hear, and at a time when worldwide bans and restrictions are being considered by the EU and others.
Better yet, the study is from the prestigious Cochrane Collaboration, which styles itself as the independent and scientific evaluator of medicine and therapies.
But there's a story behind the headlines, and it's one that nobody is getting to read. Dr Robert Verkerk, scientific director of the Alliance for Natural Health, which is fighting to keep high-dose vitamins on the healthshop shelves, has found a range of faults with the Cochrane review.
- The 'new' study isn't new at all. It was first published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in February last year. The only difference is that the 'new' Cochrane review includes one less study. So the anti-nutritional lobby has had strong press coverage twice from the same data.
- Despite its claims to be an independent review, the Cochrane study excluded 405 studies into vitamins because there were no deaths, and another 69 because they weren't 'randomised' trials. As it is, the review looked only at studies that involved sick people, taking very high-dose synthetic vitamins, and which had participants dying. This does not replicate average use, and does not give the researchers the authority to claim that supplements shouldn't be taken by healthy people.
- The studies look only at synthetic vitamins, and did not include those that are sourced from plants, such as flavonoids, anthocyanins, and sulforaphanes, which are included in leading-edge supplements, usually produced by small independent companies.
- The review flies in the face of many other studies that have established that high-dose vitamins are effective in reducing the risk of lethal diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.
(Source: Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2008, 2: No. CD007176; Alliance for Natural Health)