About a month ago, I reported on a deeply flawed study claiming dietary supplements “send” 23,000 people to emergency departments each year. Many mainstream outlets covered the “highlights” of this bogus study, originally published the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).
In a way, I can excuse (or at least understand) the mainstream media’s poor reporting of the study. After all, they aren’t doctors. They aren’t scientists.
But is that lack of training really an excuse?
They would never publish such an incorrect and misguided attack on a drug or mainstream procedure based on such shoddy research.
It reminds me of the attack on Pearl Harbor back in December 1941, which drew the U.S. into WW II. Like the Japanese bombers, the mainstream and medical media conducted an unprovoked, sneak attack against the defenseless nutritional supplement industry. They threw all the facts and all the science out the window. And they caused massive casualties to the consumer. (As if mainstream drugs themselves didn’t cause enough carnage as it is.)
I warned you last month to ignore this ridiculous “study.” But since then, several new plot twists came to light. Including more information about the study’s flawed premise, design and conclusions.
Lazy “research” leads to incorrect conclusions
As you’ll recall, the original NEJM study used incomplete data to jump to incorrect conclusions. The study found 23,000 men and women who take supplements wind up in the ER each year. But here was the missing piece from all the reporting: It was only an association — at best. It doesn’t mean supplements are the reason why 23,000 men and women head to the ER.
A colleague recently shared a good explanation about the NEJM study made by a group of distinguished scientists from around the world — several of whom I know personally.
Let’s say “Ted” goes for walk on a Sunday morning. Suddenly, he starts to overexert himself and maybe even starts to feel heart palpitations. A bit frightened and concerned, Ted (perhaps a “weekend warrior” exerciser) goes to the ER just to be sure. The doctor asks Ted some questions and learns he took dietary supplements that morning. Ted also took a whole slew of prescription drugs with his coffee and breakfast.
Without further ado, the supplement use goes into the chart. Maybe the ER doctor even believed the supplement actually had something to do with the reason for the ER visit.
It’s quite possible.
You see, most physicians have no scientific training in nutrition and nutritional supplements. They have no idea what to do or look for when they see a patient who “admits” to taking a nutritional supplement. Furthermore, many doctors possess a bias against supplements in the first place, which isn’t really surprising. Knowing about this bias, many patients don’t even tell their physicians about their supplement use. These common scenarios stand the “study’s” whole premise not only on its head, but doing somersaults.
Regardless of what the ER doctor believes, Ted starts to feel better and heads home.
Next, the NEJM researcher comes along and finds the information about Ted’s ER visit and his reported supplement use. And voilà — Ted’s tale goes into the pile with 23,000 other patients who also happened to report taking a supplement and somehow wind up in the ER.
The data collection is pathetically poor and woefully subjective. It’s by no means a scientific “study.” Nothing more than a collection of clinical anecdotes — the kind most doctors deride, especially when it comes to diet, nutrition and supplements.
Plus, it turns out most of the supplement users who went to the ER were young and healthy 20-to-34-year-olds who took energy drinks and weight loss supplements, as I first suspected and reported.
Energy products and weight loss supplements often cause symptoms like chest pain, heart palpitations, and irregular heartbeats. I have long warned never to take them. On the other hand, credible supplements — such as B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D or any of the other essential vitamins or minerals — don’t cause these types of reactions.
But to figure out something that obvious, ER doctors would have to know as much about supplements as you do (and the other readers of my Daily Dispatch).
Crunching the REAL data shows just how safe supplements really are
The NEJM article went on to pure speculation about how many adverse side effects related to supplement use might even lead to death based on no actual data whatsoever.
But there’s no need to speculate. We actually know the answer to that question, using some real data: ZERO.
According to the most current information collected by the U.S. National Poison Data System, supplements didn’t cause a single death in 2013, the most current year available.
And when you think about the millions of men and women in the U.S. who take dietary supplements every day, the real news is that so few also happen to wind up in the ER.
In fact, the Council for Responsible Nutrition calculated just 0.01 percent of all Americans who take supplements actually had any adverse effect from dietary supplements. This low number amounts to 1 in 10,000 people who take supplements who might experience a side effect.
So — when you look at this kind of real data, it actually demonstrates the safety of dietary supplements.
It’s shameful how real data and science don’t seem to count when there is a political agenda or profits at stake.
I suppose you need to know a little something about nutritional supplementation to see the obvious. But if you’re going to publish a study about nutritional supplements in the prestigious New England Journal Medicine, shouldn’t you know a little something about them? I supposed I presume too much about the researcher’s knowledge base.
They say ignorance is bliss. But when it comes to mainstream writing and publishing information about dietary supplements — ignorance seems to be an important qualification!
- Dietary Supplements Lead to 20,000 E.R. Visits Yearly, Study Finds,” New York Times (www.nytimes.com) 10/14/2015
- “Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System (NPDS): 31st Annual Report,” Clinical Toxicology (2014); 52: 1032-1283