Supplemental Woe

Following on from the expose about McKeith and her crackpottery it is interesting that the news of late has been trumpeting the “dangers” of using vitamin and herbal supplements. Remember one of the main claims of the woo-ers supporting McKeith is that modern medicine kills and all these herbal supplements dont.

It seems (JAMA, vol 297, p842) that this is not the case. The report comes to the following conclusions:

Treatment with beta carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E may increase mortality. The potential roles of vitamin C and selenium on mortality need further study.

The study found that people taking beta carotene supplements were at 7% greater risk of death than those who were not taking the supplements, and with Vit E it was 4% greater risk. More worryingly, Vitamin A supplementation appeared to increase the risk of mortality by 16%.

Now, there is a bit of a cautionary comment to go with this – this is a “meta analysis” study not a direct study, so there is the possibility that the people being given the supplements were at a greater risk of dying than the general public anyway, however one of the study group has commented “seventy percent of the participants were healthy.” (New Scientist)

Assuming this study is an accurate reflection, it is a nice slap in the face of those who push this woo in the place of retrovirals, immunisation and other “real” medicine 🙂

Not just bad but dangerous

Ben Goldacre of Bad Science must have strange scientific mindreading skills. Today, he started by echoing my thoughts on “Oh, not another diet charlatan article.” He accepted that he’s done the diet thing to death.

However, the case he wrote about today has more life-threatening implications than whether a ludicrous fake-PhD doctor can con a gullible fraction of the televsion public into believing that she’s got any idea what they should eat. (Gillian Keith)

He took issue with Patrick Holford who claims that Vitamin C is more effective than AZT on Aids patients and is about to embark on a tour of South Africa, where there more than enough problems to do with belief that vitamins will cure AIDs and that anti-AIDs medication is dangerous.

Lack of access to AIDs medicines is one of the most serious health problems in the world. The South African government has been struggling to rewrite the rules of global trade to get access to these drugs for people who cannot afford them. Along comes a senior minister who doesn’t believe that HIV causes AIDs or that anti-retrovirals are the key to keeping people alive. And now, a tv diet guru (who can sweep the board at bad science Bingo, according to Goldacre) is going along to gather more adherents to these dangerous beliefs.

Is this too obvious to say? Until the development of AZT and new variants, an AIDS diagnosis was a death sentence, even for the richest people in the world, i.e people who could eat the best of everything (and imbibe vitamins from a permanent drip, if they so choose.)

Getting enough vitamins and getting enough to eat are pretty good indiicators of how generally healthy one is and how strong the non-HIV-infected person’s immune system is likely to be. But, a virus that attacks the immune system is a virus that attacks the immune system. It’s not a cold.

AIDs doesn’t kill everyone who contracts it anymore, it certainly doesn’t kill the Biblical swathes of Westerners predicted in the 1980s. This isn’t due to better nutrition. It’s due to medicine. Leading people to believe otherwise comes close to deliberate murder.