What they don’t tell you about the latest “Scientific” research

Did you ever notice how many reports there are on the news about nutiritonal supplements not working, organic food is no better, and if you remember way back, that smoking wasn’t harmfull either.  But then there is another whole segment of the population (like me) who do say supplements can make a difference, organic is better, etc. So who is right?

This is all about the design of studies and the statistics they use. Lets look at each of these:

Design of Research Studies

Without going into great detail, lets just say that if someone has a preconceived idea of how they want the results to turn out they can design the study to support that. For example:

  • A study a year ago said that calcium didn’t promote bone growth as well as the popular prescription drugs for osteoporosis. The recommendation – Get off of calcium and just take the drugs.  The study looked at people supplementing with just calcium, or calcium plus vitamin D. The result, little bone regrowth. What they left out of the design was including magnesium, boron, silicon, and vitamin K. To regrow bone you need these in addition to calcium and vitamin D.  Had they included all these ingredients in the supplements, then the results would have been much different as many other studies have shown.
  • A recent study said that supplementing with calcium led to increased risk of arteriolosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Same as the study above, they left out several key ingredients like magnesium. If calcium and magnesium are taken in a 2:1 ratio, then there is no arterial hardening, or much less.
  • How the subjects are selected. There was a very widely published study several years ago saying vitamin E had no effect on heart health. There were two problems here, one was they only looked at people who already had had a heart attack and could vitamin E alone prevent a second heart attack over a fairly short time. The other common problem is that they look at a single vitamin in isolation like they were studying a drug. You never eat a food that has only vitamin E, foods have a whole range of vitamins and minerals. For example vitamin E and C work in conjunction with each other.

Fun with statistics

Statistics are very complex and few people are truly experts at statistics and statistical model design. You many times hear about some results on the 5:00 news. If you look at the summary of the study they will often say “Researchers found that in a meta-analysis of……”  They key word there is meta analysis.
Meta analysis isn’t a separate study, but what the researchers have done is culled over a number of other  studies and then done some analysis on the combined results of those studies. Meta analysis isn’t inherently bad, but like above, it is often how they select the studies for inclusion in the analysis. Their selection criteria can swing the results any way they want.

Follow the Money

Now the real root of the problem with many studies – Who paid for the study.  There was a study done of medical research studies and how often the results turned out supporting the sponsors product or company. If you look at many of the studies which find that vitamins and minerals don’t work, they are often funded by a pharmaceutical company.  Pharmaceutical companies know that high quality supplements can be very effective against a number of conditions, but they want the public to take their highly profitable drugs, so they commission a study and guess what, if someone pays you $300,000 to study something, you’re probably going to give them the results they want, so you get another $300,000 to study something else.
Like the recent study which came out of Stanford a few weeks ago which said that organic foods are no healthier than conventionally grown foods. Guess who funded his study? Yep, the food industry which does not want to list Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) on the label. If a food is contains GMO ingredients it can’t be labeled organic, so if they can dissuade people from buying organic, then they can hope they can get one step closer to defeating the California ballot measure to require disclosing GMO ingredients.  This was the same researcher who back in teh 60’s was publishing studies which said smoking cigerates wasn’t harmful – he was funded by the tobacco industry then.