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More Garbage Medical Headlines: Vitamin E and Prostate Cancer; Death from MultiVitamins

By       Message Cameron Salisbury     Permalink
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It is painful to watch the media glom on to incompetent 'research' published in medical journals. It would be nice if they made sure of their facts before they spread misinformation and create a bandwagon full of misleading and dangerous hot air.

Take the headline about how Vitamin E causes prostate cancer, for example. What won't they think of next?

One of their main conclusions, so important that it was included in the abstract, said that their results were not significant. Translated, that means that they were aware that they had proven nothing. You still with me?

Not wanting to admit that Vitamin E may not be dangerous for men, they continued collecting data for several more years - after the study ended - until they had met their goal, found more men from their original group who had developed prostate cancer, and could insist, according to their new and rewritten rules, that Vitamin E IS dangerous.

Huh ... ??? Are we still in Kansas?

This study had so many weaknesses that it is hard to know where to begin. So here are just a few items that make for questionable results.

1. The sponsors of the study, various components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), have a very long standing grudge against using non-pharmaceuticals to control disease. They have repeatedly tried and sometimes succeeded in either forcing supplements off the market or regulating access to them. The only reason we now have relatively free access to supplements is because of public outrage directed at past shenanigans. Did you think your opinion didn't matter?

Besides, I was there in person when FDA agents discussed ways they could 'get' vitamin makers. No joke.

2. As these authors acknowledge, there has been well done research linking Vitamin E and good prostate cancer control. Therefore, we have to wonder if their real goal was to find a way to contradict those studies, especially since they didn't end the study as scheduled in their own protocol. They seem to have continued collecting data for a number of years until they thought they had accomplished their real job: discrediting a vitamin.

3. A huge weakness, as always, was in the study design. They say the study included 'healthy men'  which seems to mean that the men didn't have prostate cancer when the study began.

Not having cancer does not mean that one is healthy. Smoking is a major risk factor for all kinds of cancer. How many smokers did they include? No mention of this or many other factors linked to cancer, like geography, diet, other health factors and diseases, and chemical exposure. They must have collected this data. Why is it not discussed in the article? These are the kind of 'confounders' that routinely turn research into garbage.

Would I suggest that anyone stop taking Vitamin E based on these results? Are you kidding me? Remember those other major and better-done studies showing that this vitamin is actually protective? This article gives no reason whatever to change our minds or our habits.

Besides, the amount of Vitamin E they administered - 400 IU/d - is probably too small to make much difference of any kind.
________________________

Does taking multivitamins increase risk of death in women? This study also made the news. The publishing journal hasn't yet allowed public access to the text of this article so their study design and methods can't be vetted.

However, results given in the abstract fail the smell test. They say that all vitamins, both separately and combined, increase the risk of death. Does that seem reasonable to you? Or does it sound like more anti-vitamin hype paid for by either big business or big government? Hmmm. Is there a difference? No disclosure of the study funding sources.

Medical research is rife with nonsense and contradictions that blur important news, quite often because of the bias of the researcher or the funding source.

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Cameron Salisbury is a biostatistician, epidemiologist and grant writer living in Atlanta.

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