Breaking News: Should We Believe the Hype?

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You might have heard an alarming news report last month: “Dietary Supplements and Mortality Rate in Older Women,” a study published in the American Medical Association’s Archives of Internal Medicine, concluded that multivitamins and some dietary supplements may have an adverse effect on life expectancy in older women.

News like this would be alarming to anyone, particularly because so many of us regularly take multivitamins and dietary supplements to help prevent disease and maintain wellness. Before we believe everything we hear on the news, it’s important to examine the facts, avoid the hype and frenzy of such stories, and examine the details with a trusted professional like myself to determine the validity of sweeping statements.

Let’s first examine the study: it is an analysis of data retrieved from 38,772 postmenopausal Caucasian women whose average age was 62. The women filled out 3 surveys over a period of 19 years, first in 1986, then in 1997 and 2004. In the surveys, the women were asked questions about lifestyle, diet, supplement use, weight, smoking, hormone replacement therapy, and whether or not the women had diabetes or heart disease.

Many research scientists and health professionals believe the study is seriously flawed in methodology, analysis, and conclusions that are made. Possibly the only conclusion that can be securely stated is that there is a slight statistical association based on a limited set of data, and a simple association does not reflect causation. Even the authors of the study state, “it is not advisable to make a causal statement of excessive risk based on these observational data.” We must take this into account while determining our own conclusions.

Next week: learn more about the flaws of this study, and find out how you can read between the lines to make your own decisions.

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