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Don’t Judge a Study By How It’s Reported In The Media

October 16, 2011

A recent study published in Archives of Internal Medicine is causing a bit of controversy. The researchers reported a link between the use of vitamins (including multivitamins, folic acid, vitamin B6, magnesium, zinc, copper and iron) and an increased mortality risk in older women. The analysis tracked about 39,000 women over 19 years, however, according to the Los Angeles Times, “The research did not explore whether supplements contributed to the causes of death among women … It could reflect the possibility that the women who took … supplements were more likely to be sick from other causes and died from their underlying disease.”

In addition, we don’t know the integrity of the supplements used, what the women were eating, what kind of lifestyle they led, what were the environmental influences, and if they had a history of diseases that led to an earlier death? And there, in a nutshell, is the problem with the way this study is being reported in many places. That same Los Angeles Times article, for example, quotes a dietician arguing that the research “bolstered arguments against using supplements.”

Other articles have made similar claims. But the study does no such thing. It seems entirely likely that the people being studied who were sick were trying to help themselves by taking supplements; hence this group was biased toward being sicker. What is important to understand is that the study only found a link between vitamins and an increased risk of death, but it didn’t prove that supplements caused death. The authors behind the study say the reasons behind the findings are not clear. “We saw an increased risk of total mortality, but we don’t really know the reason,” lead author Jaakko Murso, of the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Minnesota told CTV News. An almost identical study could be done associating frequency of visits to the doctor with the increased risk of death. But you can bet few in the media would jump to the conclusion that doctor visits are deadly, even though such a statement would not be entirely untrue.

I reached out to our VP of R&D , Lorenzo Nicastro for feedback, and his tongue-in-cheek response sums it all up: “That is similar to concluding that:
“If very few people die in church, you could live forever by making church your home. Therefore, I have decided to move and live in a church.”

The bottom line? The research is inconclusive, and now is not the time to chuck your multivitamin or calcium supplement in the trash. What is most important is following an overall healthy lifestyle: try to avoid sugar and processed foods; eat your veggies, healthy fats and protein; stay active and be positive.

Share and Share Alike

What are your thoughts on this study and how it’s being reported in the media? Do you take supplements? I’d love to hear! Please share your thoughts with the Atkins Community and also let me know what you’d like to hear about in the future.

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