Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Bad Year for Washington Post Articles

I’m As Mad As Hell And I’m Not Going To Take It Anymore. Are You?

I opened the Washington Post this morning and discovered that once again it is slamming integrative medicine and dietary supplements. Another black eye from mainstream media. Well, enough is enough. It is time to put up our dukes and come out fighting! We need to come together as a community and educate (and shame) them into balanced and fair reporting. Isn’t it time to have our research and testimonies seen in such a major media source?

Repeatedly, the Washington Post has printed articles that are little more than press releases from pharmaceutical companies, the government, and big trade associations. Or even worse, Big Pharma-funded educational institutions with “new” studies showing the “dangers” or “ineffectiveness” of therapies and supplements that are commonly accepted in the “alternative” world as safe and effective.

Okay, so we don’t have the money to power the PR machine that the drug czars have. We do have the might on our side. Let’s use one of the best tools at our disposal. Our voice. Read below to find out how you can help make an impact.

Today’s issue of the Washington Post Health section includes the following:

A Bad Year for Favorites. When Put to the Test, Americans’ Most Trusted Supplements Failed. Highlights the following: Glucosamine & Chondroitin Sulfate; Calcium and Vitamin D; B Vitamins, Multivitamins, and Echinacea. The articles points to studies (but does not name them) to show the evidence that these supplements are ineffective. Below, we give you more information about the studies mentioned.

No Needles. Acupuncture No Better Than Placebo for Hot Flashes. Uses a study by Mayo Clinic and says that investigators were disappointed with results.

Fx for Salt. Cut it Out. The article starts off with a plug for American Medical Association and their weak resolution of “50 percent reduction in sodium content of processed foods, fast foods, and restaurant meals over the next 10 years.” I guess it’s better than nothing.

Natural Herbal. An article talking about how mostly ethnic communities don’t associate medicinal herbs with pills and instead use the leaves, roots, and roots, and fruit into teas and potions “claimed to have health benefits – though few are proved.” The article uses Consumers Reports’ Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database as source.

Please take a few moments to read for yourself the articles. Visit the Washington Post Health Section (you may have to sign up, it's free).

Then use our online action center to send your response to the Publisher, Editor, Health Section, and Reporter.

UPDATE: In less than 24 hours, over 1,500 letters have been sent. Please take a moment to write your own response!



Study: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)

A common flaw with this trial (as most clinical trials) is that they did not use the commercially available supplements.

The article almost throws away the mention that the supplements did reduce moderate-to-severe joint pain by 25%. Not mentioned are results from a 24-week clinical trial in Europe that found that glucosamine sulfate was more effective in relieving osteoarthritis pain than the pain medicine acetaminophen. The results of both the studies were presented at the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Rheumatology.

Jim Roy, Pharm-D, clinical pharmacist for Parkview Hospital in Fort Wayne, Indiana, suggests, “The studies that have been done are not large, but the preponderance of evidence from smaller studies justifies consideration of the supplements for osteoarthritis patients.”

Also not mentioned an important study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (July 14, 2003) showed that glucosamine and chondroitin significantly improved symptoms of osteoarthritis and also improved joint mobility for 1 in 5 patients studied.

A separate study suggests glucosamine may actually slow the progression of osteoarthritis, according to The Lancet (January 24, 2001). This three-year study involved 212 people with osteoarthritis in their knees. The study found that patients who took glucosamine experienced far less deterioration than those who did not. Patients who were given glucosamine also reported decreased joint pain.

Calcium and Vitamin D

Study: Calcium with Vitamin D (CaD)
Sponsored by Women’s Health Initative, National Institutes of Health
Trial of 36,282 postmenopausal women ages 50 to 79.

Using this study and findings feels likes a filler. The findings show that Calcium and Vitamin D help PMS. Overall, the supplements were well tolerated by participants and the only adverse effect found was a 17 percent increase in kidney stones which the experts say the benefits outweigh the negligible risk.

B Vitamins

Studies: Reported in the New England Journal of Medicine
1) Heart Outcomes Prevention Evaluation-2 (HEART-2)
Sponsored by Hamilton Health Sciences - McMaster University Medical Centre, Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and Population Health Research Institute.
HEART-2 involved 5,522 patients, age55 or older, with vascular disease or diabetes and spread across 13 countries. They were randomly assigned to take daily doses of either a placebo or a combination of 2.5 milligrams of folic acid, 50 milligrams of vitamin B-6, and 1 milligram of vitamin B-12 over an average of five years.

2) The Norwegian Vitamin Trial (NORVIT)
Sponsored by University of Tromso, The Norwegian Research Council, The Council on Health and Rehabilitation, Norway, The Norwegian Council on Cardiovascular Disease, Northern Norway Regional Health Authority, and The Norwegian Red Cross

NORVIT enrolled 3,749 men and women ages 30 to 85 years at Norwegian hospitals, each of whom had a heart attack within a week of being assigned one of four daily treatments. Some patients received a placebo while others were given either 40 milligrams of vitamin B-6; a combination of0.8 milligrams of folic acid, 0.4 milligrams of vitamin B-12 and 40 milligrams of B-6, or 0.8 milligrams of folic acid and 0.4 milligrams of B-12.

Summary. These studies did not test if Vitamin B could keep healthy people, healthy. Instead they tested people with heart disease to see if Vitamin B could treat or reverse heart disease. The HOPE-2 study did have some positive findings, including a statistically significant 25% reduction in nonfatal strokes. There are at least nine clinical trials now on-going or recently completed looking at whether B vitamins can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease so there will be more data to review shortly.


Study: National Institutes of Health, May 2006

Here are some basic flaws with the NIH findings:
1) Common multivitamins are synthetic and manufactured by Big Pharma.
2) Multivitamins could be beneficial to millions of Americans who struggle with nutrition and diet.
3) NIH used their findings to call for tighter regulations. In fact, dietary supplements have been defined by Congress as a category of food which is now more closely regulated than most other food categories. Do people get sick from eating food? Of course, in fact there are hundreds of deaths every year from food poisonings and allergic reactions. On the other hand, there are virtually no deaths from taking dietary supplements. According to date in official reports from the American Association of Poison Control Centers it is safer taking a dietary supplement than to eat a meal! Additionally, the FDA has repeatedly testified before Congress that it does not require any additional laws or changes to regulate supplements that the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act gives them all the power that they need.


I believe the reporter was referencing the University of Virginia study but there is a discrepencany with the number of patients. The article lists 437 study participants but the University of Virginia study had 399 patients. There was an earlier study with 407 children.

University of Virginia Health System received a $2.2 million grant from National Institutes of Health to study Echinacea in 1992. (Note: Echinacea was listed as the 5th best-selling supplement in 1999, with sales of approx. $72 million.)

Basic flaws with this study (American Botanical Council):

1) The extracts used were made in a university laboratory and do not correlate with commercial Echinacea products currently available to consumers.
2) The dosages used are considered too low to have much value. Either higher dosage levels or more frequent dosing intervals would have been better.
3) Dosage recognized by the World Health Organization is about 330% higher than the dosage used in the study.

Note: The New England Journal of Medicine ran an editorial by Wallace Sampson, MD, a well-known opponent of integrative medicine and dietary supplements. In fact, he is a “beloved” quackbuster. On April 22, 2003, a California Appeals Court declared that Wallace Sampson MD (Scientific Review of Alternative and Aberrant Medicine) "were found to be biased and unworthy of credibility."