•The amino acid L-arginine doesn’t help and may increase the risk of death following a heart attack. •Low-fat diets don’t help prevent breast or colon cancer or heart disease. •Saw palmetto was no better then placebo for treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia or enlarged prostate. •Vitamin D and calcium do not decrease the risk of bone fractures or colon cancer. •Glucosamine and chondroitin don’t help with arthritis.
What the media failed to mention in their reporting was that these findings are inconsistent with numerous previous studies showing positive findings for the supplements or dietary interventions in question. The study results scripted to capture public attention were not as clear cut as the ‘sound byte’ reporting portrayed and a closer look is revealing.
A Johns Hopkins study in which L-arginine was being given to patients following heart attack was stopped short after 6 of 153 individuals died. While unfortunate, the deaths could not be attributed to L-arginine; the researchers acknowledged this. Six deaths in a group that size following heart attack is statistically probable. How well absorbed the type of arginine being used in the study was open to question because blood levels of L-arginine were the same for those taking it and the control or placebo group. Of the six who died the causes were varied and showed no connecting pattern: one heart attack, two from infection, two found dead of unknown causes, and one died 3 weeks after discontinuing L-arginine, the cause not listed.
While researchers questioned the role of L-arginine following recent heart attack, media sensationalists broadcast a generalized warning that L-arginine was dangerous and for those with heart conditions to avoid L-arginine, a stance unsupported by the study authors. Numerous studies have shown L-arginine improves the health of blood vessels, lowers blood pressure and increases blood flow through-out the body.
In an attempt to identify the effect of a low-fat diet on risk for heart disease, stroke, breast cancer and colon cancer the Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification Trial made the following recommendations to 48,835 postmenopausal women: reduce total dietary fat to 20%, increase intake of fruits and vegetables to 5 servings daily and whole grains to six servings daily.
When the media trumpeted the failures of this low fat diet they overlooked several problematic concerns.
1.By the sixth year of this study, participants had only lowered their intake of fat by 8.2 percent and their intake of saturated fat (that which is associated with heart disease) by 2.9 percent. 2.Average fruit and vegetable intake increased only to 1.1 servings daily and grains consumption increased by only ½ serving daily. 3.Participants were not instructed on the difference between good quality oils and unhealthy oil, and some may have reduced healthy oils (like that found in salmon) thereby negatively skewing the results of this study.
Even with the somewhat subtle dietary changes that participants achieved, there was a trend toward decreased heart disease and breast cancer which corroborates previous studies.
The Saw Palmetto Prostate Slam
In this study the conclusion was that Saw Palmetto did not benefit men with enlarged prostate or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). If you are one of many men who no longer get up five times a night to go to the bathroom since going on Saw Palmetto, then you may wonder at the study conclusion. What this study showed was that if you take a group of men with moderate to severe prostate enlargement Saw Palmetto provides minimal benefit. Previous positive studies have looked at men with mild to moderate benign prostatic hypertrophy and with those individuals Saw Palmetto did prove beneficial.
Calcium and Vitamin D for Decreasing Fracture Risk and Prevention of Colon Cancer
Most people are aware that calcium and vitamin D are essential for maintaining bone health, however many don’t realize that studies show they also reduce the risk for cancer, especially colon cancer. Many were understandably surprised with the negative findings of this study surfaced last year, with the additional concern of increasing risk for kidney stones. Looking more closely at the study it is easy to see why the erroneous conclusions were drawn in this poorly controlled study. I’ll briefly summarize:
•Many of the women in this study were taking hormones, known to increase bone density thereby confounding the results. •Women in both groups were allowed to take personal calcium doses up to 1,000 mg daily, and vitamin D supplements up to 1,000 IU daily. •Calcium carbonate was used in this study; a very poorly absorbed form of calcium with a tendency to form stones.
Calcium citrate is a much more absorbable form of calcium, which has the ability to prevent kidney stones. While media focused on the kidney stone formation statistics, they overlooked the fact that hip fracture reduction percentages surpassed the percentages of kidney stone formation. When the group was examined for compliance (taking at least 80% of the assigned supplements) a significant 29 percent reduction in hip fracture was noted. Even when the non-compliers were included in final results, a 21 percent decrease in fractures was shown for those most likely to experience hip fractures: age 60 and older.
Prevention of colon cancer could not be realistically assessed due to the short nature of the study (7 years: colon cancer typically develops over a much longer time period) as the researchers acknowledged. Again, participants in both groups were allowed to take additional calcium during the study skewing results. In spite of these concerns, media headlines proclaimed that calcium and vitamin D failed to prevent colon cancer.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin Take a Hit
If you are one of the many whose joint pain has been alleviated with glucosamine and chondroitin, this study may seem confusing. Participants received either 1,500 mg glucosamine HCL, 1,200 mg chondroitin sulfate, a combination of glucosamine and chondroitin, or placebo or the anti-inflammatory medication celecoxib for 24 weeks.
Exactly why glucosamine HCL was used is curious because most studies have used glucosamine sulfate, never-the-less, findings showed that glucosamine and chondroitin alone or in combination did not effectively reduce osteoarthritic knee pain in the overall group and this is what was published. What didn’t get published was the fact that those in the group with moderate to severe knee pain did experience significant decrease in pain, surpassing that found with placebo and surpassing the benefit found with celecoxib.
Additional studies in the past year called into question many other supplements including the benefit of B vitamins in relation to heart disease, black cohosh in regard to menopausal symptoms and echinacea in regard to cold care, however to address each one transcends the scope of this newsletter. Every negative study I’ve seen had multiple other studies contradicting the negative findings, and nearly every negative study like the ones examined in this report had serious design flaws leading to unimpressive findings.
Please contact me if you want more information on a particular study.
Jon Dunn, ND