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Flawed Research & Media Sensationalism over the use of Antioxidants

posted on 22 April 2008 | posted in Health Articles


Industry bodies swiftly reacted to the flawed and grossly misleading research published (28th February) by Goran Bjelakovic with collaborators from the University of Serbia claiming that antioxidants could shorten a person's lifespan. Industry bodies emphasised that these researchers did not conduct new research but collated old research data, the majority of which proved the valuable benefits of Antioxidant supplementation and ‘skewed the results’.
The researches started analysing 815 trials and removed previously published trials from their study which they believed showed a bias 'in favour' of Antioxidants. Using their own selection method they discounted the results from 747 trials (91.7% of the initial trials). The researchers only removed 2 trials that showed a poor bias towards Antioxidants and even included a ‘one-day’ study instead of numerous extensive studies conducted over a period of years.
The majority of the studies included in this assessment were based on patients with serious illnesses like cancer and heart disease, the mortality rate of these patients being influenced by the disease.
The study mixed a wide spectrum of trials together that had little or no relation to one another with Dr Andrew Shao (Vice President, Council for Responsible Nutrition) stating, “It’s like comparing apples and oranges”.
The authors of the study actually concluded that there was no correlation with antioxidants and mortality. It was only when the researchers used their own selection method to discount what they believed were ‘Antioxidant bias trials’ and included the majority of trials based on 'seriously ill individuals' that they could conclude their final results. Industry bodies claim that this study has been specifically tailored and designed to achieve the result that it was set out to achieve, questioning the ethics and morals behind the study and the reasons for why it was initiated. Industry bodies have stated that a similar meta-analysis study was published before and like the previous meta-analysis this meta-analysis has a fatal flaw in the use of data.
The study has been slammed by the US-based Council for Responsible Nutrition, who said the researchers 'misused meta-analysis methods to create generalized conclusions that may inappropriately confuse and alarm consumers who can benefit from supplementing with antioxidants.'
Industry bodies reacted to the misleading study giving assurance to people that Antioxidants have been proven over and over again to be beneficial for health.
Interestingly the studies did not consider natural antioxidants found in food or natural
organic supplements but focused on synthetic produced antioxidants.
The same day the aforementioned study was published, yet another favourable study was published by a group of Swedish researchers who concluded that vitamin A may help reduce some risks of stomach cancer. Ironically, this same medical journal has released a stream of studies suggesting the health benefits of antioxidants from reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and macular degeneration, to helping improve immune functioning in patients with HIV spectrum disease.
Whilst they are literally thousands of research papers published showing the important preventative benefits of Antioxidants, below are a few examples for your information;
The Cambridge Heart Antioxidant Study - published in the Lancet. This report concluded that vitamin E doses of 400 to 800 IU per day, in people with atherosclerosis, reduced the risk of heart attack by 77 per cent.
Another report titled “Multivitamin Use and Mortality in a Large Prospective Study' showed that out of over 1 million participants, those adults who used vitamin E, or other antioxidant vitamins, in combination with a daily multivitamin had a 15 per cent lower risk of dying from heart disease or stroke than those who did not take vitamins.
Blood levels of the antioxidant nutrients vitamins A, C, and E, and beta-carotene are reported to be lower in people with a history of heart attack, compared with healthy individuals.
The results from the Physicians Health Study 2 (PHS2) indicated apparent benefits of beta-carotene supplementation on subsequent vascular events among 333 men with prior angina or revascularisation.
With regards to the safety of beta-carotene for long-term use, the PHS2 results indicated that beta-carotene supplementation (50mg on alternate days) had no significant detrimental effects on cardio-vascular disease during more than 12 years of treatment and follow-up.