As a former student of biochemistry who maintains an interest in the field, and as a person who’s seen and experienced the benefits of dietary supplements, I can only shake my head at the barrage of research that denies their effectiveness in addressing problems associated with chronic illness. Each time proponents call for increased access to these products in the health care system, detractors flood the media with negative reports.
Our medical system is full of specialists who treat symptoms instead of finding their underlying causes. Most physicians understand little about how different systems of the human body work together. Most studies also fail to address the biochemical individuality of each participant. Experienced practitioners have presented peer-reviewed evidence that supports the importance of these critera in publications like The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
Physicians who know little about vitamin science have conducted many of the negative studies. They don’t account for the fact that most nutrients work best with other co-factors. Until recently, the primary emphasis of medical training in the United States and most industrialized nations has been on how to administer drugs.
Since 2002, when the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) launched it’s PharmFree Campaign, the number of medical educators and practitioners who no longer base their practices upon information from pharmaceutical representatives has grown. Prior to this, the pharmaceutical industry was in charge of all medical education for physicians and students.
Most people wouldn’t accept studies conducted by someone who wasn’t experienced in their field. Why should we accept research done by people who have no experience in the area of their research?
In some studies, like the one reported in 2004 by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, which cited the dangers of using high doses of vitamin E, the participants were in the advanced stages of chronic illness. Experienced practitioners know that supplements are not magic bullets. They are most effective in the early stages of disease and when used to target specific deficiencies and imbalances.
Another study reported in a 2008 article by Reuters claimed that beta carotene supplements increase the risk of cancer among smokers. The participants were practicing a habit that, according to the National Cancer Institute, has been connected with 87% of lung cancer deaths.
Like any product, quality is also an issue. As of last year, the labels on all products produced by manufacturers with more than 500 employees must contain exactly what is on the label. Companies with less than 20 employees must comply by 2010. Unethical manufacturers who are intent on scamming the public will still find ways to avoid compliance with these rules.
And not all studies by knowledgeable practitioners produce positive results. The authors may not understand all the conditions that contributed to the success of studies in other settings or what may cause a product to work under untested circumstances. Sometimes they just won’t work in the situation in which they have been applied.
Don’t be fooled by attempts to discredit all supplement science. Do your own homework, and seek the services of a qualified provider.
From the next edition of Unmasking a Diagnosis: How to get Help for a Confusing Chronic Illness Without Filing for Bankruptcy by Jacqueline L. Jones. The current edition is available through Lulu.com. The next edition will be available this year through Amazon.com and other online book and ebook retailers.