First lets look at the article published today on the ABC's website spruiking their latest expose on their Four Corners program. The claims that ABC is making using paediatrician Dr Offit are simply misleading when looked at with detail. First off, Dr Offit's opinion that we are getting enough vitamins from the food we eat is a gross generalisation on what he thinks the general public are be eating, furthermore that the supplements give us more than our daily recommended intake. See this article published by Harvard Medical School. The gist of it says that its quite difficult to get all your daily nutrients. Especially when over 60% of Australia's population is either overweight or obese and with an ever ageing population and increasing hospital spending, it doesn't take a genius to realise - WE'RE NOT THAT HEALTHY! Talking specifically about vitamin supplements, Dr Offit describes most vitamins as being higher than our recommended daily intake. Keep in mind, the RDI is not only a general guideline and estimate, it also is the minimum amount we need to prevent disease, like scurvy. The RDI by no means means the upper limit of vitamins our bodies can handle without causing problems. If you have a healthy, well balanced diet with plenty of fruits (5-7 serves per day), plenty of vegetables (8-10 serves per day), high quality proteins (wild caught fish, grass fed, free range meats) and fats (nuts, seeds, good quality organic oils) then you probably don't need to take additional vitamin supplements, until you hit your 40s that is. The claim about fish oils needs scrutiny but we could not find Dr Grey's "compiled evidence."
Lets look at what they're warning against: "Dangerous" vitamins and supplements revealed by PBS Frontline program. As for the claim that supplements can be dangerous, the article then discusses two products: one specific sports supplement and a poor quality herbal supplement. The case is pretty clear, buy high quality, evidence based supplements from reputable brands or nothing.
Now let's look at The Guardian's article on probiotics and their claim that probiotics are a waste of money. We have to look no further than the study itself to review the data and conclusions made by the researchers. We had a look at the journal article the Guardian was kind enough to actually provide a link for, unlike the ABC. When looking at the data it is important to note that only 7 studies matched the criteria for the review. Due to the differences of the studies, they could not conduct a meta-analysis of the data. Basically they are making conclusions off a small amount of evidence. Now lets look at the test subjects. All of these individuals in the seven studies are "healthy" aged between 19-88. Probiotics are generally recommended "where dysbiosis is present or where the microbiota is perturbed, there is...evidence for a restorative or protective effect of certain strains of probiotics, both on the fecal microbial community itself, but more importantly, also on host physiology, e.g. alleviation of gastrointestinal symptoms." They are not generally recommended for healthy individuals. Finally looking at the concluding remarks and the discussion whereby the researchers identify a clear lack of evidence for healthy individuals when looking at faecal composition. This study also doesn't even consider other benefits of probiotics in this article also published by Harvard about the gut-brain axis, which we will look at in anther post.
All this is to say that its very easy to sensationalise the research and make wild sweeping claims about an entire industry, especially for the unsuspecting and the scientifically illiterate. But if the media were to make claims along the lines of pharmaceuticals medication killing people, as they do every day, those claims would only pertain to specific medication and does not reflect the entire industry. When it comes to news headlines attempting to discredit supplements or complementary medicines, proceed with caution.