Saturday, May 12, 2012

Thoughts on multivitamin supplements and medical 'science'

Can I just shout from the rooftops that Brighid, my daughter who has rather limited likes at dinner time, likes brussels sprouts?  So did everyone tonight (I cut the base off, scored a cross from the base, steamed them and then added some butter).

In other non-news and perhaps eventually some actual news, I have something called a chalazion in my eyelid.  I've been pronouncing it with a french style, which makes it feel a little less unappealing.  My first encounter with the optometrist was somewhat unsuccessful, as he wrote a referral to the DHB and they weren't the slightest bit interested.  The optometrist then wrote a script for steroids, and given the time I've spent reading up on steroids (mostly in relation to my son's eczema) and my evaluation (the optometrist's seemed to be rather similar) of the likelihood of success with a skin thinning lotion, I'm not the slightest bit interested in putting steroid cream on my eyelid.

I've been doing hot compresses as the optometrist and a number of google-derived advisers suggested.  I've even been doing compresses with epsoms salts as per some other google-derived suggestions.  It goes up and down, sometimes a medium-sized bump and other times an entirely inflamed eyelid which partly films over my vision.  I've taken to getting FH to photograph it so that when I next talk to the GP about harassing the district health board, I have evidence of the yucky days.  Our DHB seems to work by sending most people away on their first application for surgery, and using that to weed out those who don't persist with what they need.


In older women, several commonly used dietary vitamin and mineral supplements may be associated with increased total mortality risk; this association is strongest with supplemental iron.

I found this interesting given that my personal interest in haemachromatosis has led me to carefully vet all supplements to ensure they do not contain iron.  But it's not quite that easy.  Just because I see supplemental iron as problematric and possibly dangerous for the large number of people with undiagnosed haemachromatosis, dioesn't mean this study is rock solidly persuasive.  

I'm confident that anyone still reading is familiar with the irritating habit, common to medical researchers, of confusing correlation with causation.  My favourite irritation is the news that smokers have higher stress levels than non-smokers.  No!  Really?  And no one ever stoppped to wonder why poor and disadvantaged people still smoke in higher numbers than the rest of the population?

 I was wondering about the significance of when and why Iowa women were taking supplements.The health profile of an active woman who took supplements as well as making 'good' food choices is surely not the same as someone who only moves to taking supplements once she is diagnosed with cancer.  Then I found this article from a group called Life Extension, whom I haven't read or known of before.  But the linked article succinctly sums up many of my concerns about the use of data in the Iowa Women's Study, and the claims that have been made from that data.

If one book or group of books are 'bad', then that doesn't make all books 'bad'.  Likewise, it seems to me to be wise not to assume that all vitamin and mineral supplements are faulty, based on one or even several articles making such grand claims (or certainly the resultant newspaper articles went for such grand suggestions).  Equally, if you or I do choose to take supplements, even if they are on the advice of a GP (or any alternative health practitioner), then I think any of us are wise in that situation to go do some learning ourselves.  A multivitamin supplement is not a fixed thing, and one or any version may not be the supplement that best fits your nutritional profile. 


4 comments:

applepip said...

I'm just in the middle of reading David Gillespie's Big Fat Lies:How the diet industry is making you sick, fat and poor, and it has a good little background chapter on vitamins, the discovery history of a few, and the ideas around supplements. It's quite interesting.

And as for the brussels sprouts?! Whoop!

Sandra said...

Thanks Pippa. I've been googling his book, thanks to your recommendation. I can't conceive of a situation where giving up sugar is a bad thing (well, I can, but not within the context of people who can afford to eat). But his other contentions seem overly simplistic. Do you think he is focusing on selling 'a big idea' with miraculous results much like most diet books?

applepip said...

Possibly. I've only read the background chapters (part 1 of the book) so far, so I'm undecided as yet, but enjoyed the vitamin history. The non-diet book I did enjoy recently was Gary Taubes - Why We Get Fat. I loved it, even though it's contentious. Cutting out or back on sugar and bread? Miraculous. Plus you get to eat meat and cheese and eggs and cream and that suits me to the ground. Did notice some crossover between Taubes and Gillespie, although they are not totally on the same bandwagon. Hmm. . . maybe I'll email you, this comment is getting out of hand :)

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