Supplement Danger and the Advantage of Fish for you Heart
A number of years ago I was asked to evaluate the cause and testify in the case of sudden death in a young man shortly after taking a nutritional supplement. It was clear from my evaluation, and from that of the medical examiner, that the pills contained sufficient toxic substances to have caused the death.
There was sufficient evidence of tremendous variation in the content of the remaining pills that a federal subpoena and warrant to examine the warehouse and laboratory that made the pills was issued. The laboratory and warehouse “accidentally” burned down that day.
I don’t know what ultimately happened to the manufacturers, but that experience doesn’t support confidence is the industry that manufactures “dietary supplements”.
How do these supplements become popular? Usually there is a scientific observation that starts it all.
As an example, several years ago it was noted that some people in the Netherlands had lower rates of heart attacks than some other people. It was postulated that fish consumption might be responsible. A study compared those who ate more fish with those who ate less. It was found that those who ate more fish had lower incidence of heart attack than those who ate less.
Not surprisingly, all of a sudden there was a new industry. The parts of the fish that had previously been thrown out were squeezed for fish oil. A new industry was born, and instead of the obvious conclusion that increased fish consumption might be better for health, the message seemed to be “buy fish oil”.
Unfortunately, the fish oil capsules do not give the same benefit as eating fish and benefit the seller more than the buyer. Short-term trials demonstrate minor benefits of questionable significance to some vascular tests, but no significant long-term benefits.
Why is there so much “confusion” in the lay articles about the subject of what nutrition or food is “good for you”. I suppose that everyone wants to believe that they have the answer. Science however is not so simple.
The way we find out information is initially by observation. We note that a certain population has less heart disease, and then we postulate that the reason for this is something that they eat or do. Often, we identify the wrong reason for the difference. When this happens, further research does not support our postulate.
To use a common example, we can make an observation that the life expectancy of those who use adding machines is less than those who use calculators. One postulate would be that using calculators extends life. Further examination will however demonstrate that the reason for the difference is that the people still using adding machines are older, and thus not likely to live longer. If we report the postulate or theory too early, we may sell a lot of calculators, but not do a lot for the consumer.
Next week, I will separate the nutritional supplement facts from myths and reveal which commonly discussed products are truly beneficial.
Published On: January 04, 2007