Beware Deceptive Research! A Warning and Exploration of Fake News.

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I was watching TV the other day and a mainstream medical doctor was on one of the cable news networks. 

I won’t mention the doctor’s name or the network because I’m not trying to put anyone on blast. But it reminded me of a major red flag, a fake news red flag you might say, when it comes to studies done on vitamin supplements.

This doctor made mention of a soon-to-be released, massive study which will supposedly debunk the idea that vitamin D can help prevent illnesses and will instead show that multivitamins are a scam.

First, A Basic Primer on Fake News

First of all, I am not accusing this particular doctor, or anyone else mentioned in this article, of pushing fake news.

Far from it. I’m sure this doctor fully believes what was said and I’m also sure there is some type of evidence that will make it appear to be true, whether it is or not.

We’ll discuss how that can be later in this article.

Sometimes fake news is inadvertent and sometimes fake news is unearthed in the analysis of real news.

Let’s look closer.

“Fake news” looks like any good lie. 

You start with an element of truth and weave in falsehoods, personal opinions or omissions, subtle or otherwise, purposeful or otherwise, and end up with a conclusion that looks a lot like the original truth and can even be defended as truth, but in reality is false.

You see, by carrying an element of truth within it, the false conclusion carries with it a ring of truth which can gloss over any falsehoods.

And also give it just enough truth to be defended.

If you can find somebody with a relevant credential to deliver it, then voila! You have the perfect trifecta to convince almost anybody of fake news.

Now, I haven’t seen this particular study yet (this doctor hadn’t yet either) so it could turn out to be true.  I’ll leave open that possibility because to truly learn and grow we cannot be chained to preconceived notions.

However, I have seen many of these studies before and they all left one important factor out of the discussion, which is what I will discuss here. 

We need to look out for factors like this, rather than just swallowing conclusions whole, uncritically. Especially based on headlines or sound bites.

That factor we need to look out for is the type of multivitamin which was chosen to study.

All Vitamins Are Not Created Equal

Imagine yourself walking up and down the aisles in the store.  There are more multivitamin options than ever before, right? 

They’re everywhere.

They range from purely organic, whole food ingredients and superfood extracts to toxic soups of man-made chemicals masquerading as bioavailable nutrients that you can get on the cheap.

Guess which ones are often selected for these types of studies?

I would imagine if one were to conduct a study of cheap, garbage multivitamins, the results would be…what you might expect.

Let’s take a look at this one, for example.

A study published in the Dec. 17, 2013 issue of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, assigned almost 6,000 male doctors over the age of 65 to take either a commercial multivitamin (name withheld) or a placebo.  The intent was to determine if the multivitamin would have any positive impact on their cognition.

Where do we begin?

First of all, I have an issue with a study that only looks at one specific population (doctors) rather than a random sampling of a much larger population.  This population has too much potentially in common socially, economically, etc. for its results to be applied to a larger, more general population.

At least for my liking.

Secondly, they were all over the age of 65.  That means there could have been plenty of hard living and self-abuse through poor diets, poor exercise habits and the like through the years before they got to the age of 65, rendering many basic preventative practices like multivitamins fairly useless.

Let’s be honest.  If someone has been doing a number to their health all the way to at least 65, it’s likely going to take a heck of a lot more than a conventional multivitamin to make a measurable difference in any aspect of one’s health anyway.

And what about those in the study who may have taken pristine care of their health, employing the best preventative measures, leading up to that time? What impact might a basic multivitamin have on them, if they were already in very good condition?

Chances are not too much.

Personally, I would have preferred to see a study that tracked younger people who took multivitamins for preventative purposes, then checking to see how things turned out for them when they BECAME 65 years old.  Not starting after they were 65 years old.

That would be a much better test of basic prevention, which is the claim of many multivitamin manufacturers anyway.

But, it was not my study and I did not fund it, so I get no say in it!

But lastly, and most importantly, let’s look at the source of it all, as mentioned in the beginning of this article – the multivitamin chosen to study.

In this case, it happens to be of the more mass-produced, commercial variety.

First of all, most commercial multivitamins, and even many specialty multivitamins, only provide enough of each vitamin or mineral contained to supplement one’s diet, effectively to ensure a lack of deficiency.  Rarely are any of them formulated with a dosage useful for specific treatment or therapeutic purposes.

Again, that is not what multivitamins typically set out to do. 

Nor could or should they, as therapeutic doses should be managed carefully by a licensed health care practitioner and would not be appropriate for a large audience across a general population.

Secondly, many commercial multivitamins contain a very similar ingredient.

And that ingredient is (in my opinion of course)…

Garbage!

No, not literal garbage, mind you, although you might find it to be so.

Here is a list of some of the health-boosting (sarcasm) ingredients in the particular multivitamin they chose to study:

  • Blue 2 Lake
  • Red 40 Lake
  • Yellow 6 Lake
  • Hydrogenated Palm Oil
  • Modified Corn Starch
  • Pregelatinized Corn Starch (didn’t know that was a thing until today, but I’m sure it’s totally necessary for health and wellness)
  • Sodium Metavanadate
  • and so much more!

Have you gotten your recommended daily intake of Red 40 Lake today?

(If you’re wondering, it’s not recommended at all.)

So, this particular study sampled a somewhat homogeneous group of people, only over the age of 65, and fed them a multivitamin of chemicals, fillers and some vitamins, I would assume mostly in chemical, lab-concocted form rather than whole food form.

And wouldn’t you know it?  It wasn’t a health savior after all!

Of course, the conclusions reached by mainstream medical analysts, as the headlines screamed, were that multivitamins have once again been shown to be useless.

Now, let’s give credit where credit is due. The author of this study came to a very truthful conclusion and has done a great service for us all.

She said, “no matter which way we broke it down, there was a null effect…supplements are often marketed to have benefits for brain health and things like that, and this is a pretty clear takeaway message.”

Her takeaway is completely correct. This particular multivitamin, if it is or was indeed marketed to have benefits for brain health, should obviously rethink that strategy based on the results of this study, in my opinion.

We should not have supplement manufacturers claiming that their products do things that they do not do.

I applaud her for attempting to smoke out fraudulent claims in an industry (supplements) that has so much potential to help people and has no need for bad actors to besmirch its reputation.

But with that said, are we sure we can extrapolate these results over a wider population? Remember, this study only looked at doctors over 65. What about college-age students? Middle-age accountants? So on and so forth.

Now, if the supplement manufacturers used better, whole food, superfood ingredients, maybe the study results would have turned out differently.

(A little bit of foreshadowing…keep reading.)

Getting Back to Fake News

So, let’s see if the analysis of this study, that multivitamin supplements are not useful, is the real truth or fake news.

First, is there an element of truth?

There sure is! The study results are indeed accurate. In fact, you could write the following headline and it would be accurate:

Administering a multivitamin was shown to not lead to cognitive improvement.

Well, that settles it then. Multivitamins do not aid cognition.

By reading this headline, which is accurate, you could interpret it to say this. This was a conclusion some reached, by the way.

It may be due to preexisting biases, but those can feed into fake news as well.

But, does the headline tell the whole story? Or is there also one of the elements of fake news (falsehood, personal opinion or omission) found in that headline?

To find out, let’s rewrite the headline above regarding the study results, without any omissions to see if it gives us a greater truth.

The DOCTORS OVER THE AGE OF 65 did not see cognitive improvement as the result of TAKING ONE SPECIFIC MULTIVITAMIN WHICH WAS CHOSEN.

Both headlines are accurate. But one contains an omission which leads to deception, while the other does not and is far more truthful.

Or, one leads to fake news and the other is not. It’s subtle, and it’s what we have to look for.

By leaving an omission, there is room for personal biases to fill in the blanks.

If you already believe multivitamins are useless, the first headline allows you to confirm your bias. And if you are credentialed, that is a powerful concoction to spread some fake news, even unintentionally.

However, by rewriting the headline with just one or two additional details, you get much closer to the real truth. This study found that one specific multivitamin did not aid cognitive improvement in the test subjects selected.

Not all multivitamins. Just the one they tested.

And not on all people. Just the group they selected.

This removes some of the space for personal biases and opinions to fill, which makes it much harder to come to a false, or biased, conclusion that is not entirely truthful.

Even still, many of the so-called medical experts who commented on the study commented as though it was further proof (confirming bias) that ALL multivitamins and supplements in general, for ALL people, were useless.

That is obviously fake news.

You see, they only tested ONE brand of multivitamin to determine its efficacy in improving ONE condition in ONE group of people.

Those results are all that it tells us.

Any analysis that extends the results beyond that is possibly incredibly biased or sadly worse.

So you can see how fake news can arise out of something that is actually accurate.

You just have to leave out enough truth to fill in with opinions and bias.

Which is why we have to have our guards up. Because in this case the analysis contained a truth (check) but also an omission (double check) and was often delivered by someone with a trusted credential (triple check).

Wow. That is the perfect storm for fake news. The kind that appears true, but is really a truth combined with an omission, filled in with a bias, which leads to an unproven or incorrect conclusion, far from the original truth. Then that conclusion becomes trustworthy because of the authority of the commenter.

Those conclusions can then get implanted into the collective consciousness or narrative and can be very hard to unwind once they are accepted as truth.

We’re busy people, and once that headline, delivered with authority, gets implanted, we might just move on to the next thing. So understanding this construction is very important for our ability to sift what is real from what is fake.

So What’s the Deal with Supplements, Then?

The fact that other types of nutritional supplements were not tested alongside the multivitamin chosen makes a big difference in determining the efficacy of multivitamins with regard to any condition.

A huge difference!

So, based on the results of this study, I understand that there is a specific type of multivitamin out there that may not be worth my money (at least if I am a doctor who is over 65 years of age and looking solely to improve my cognition).

But I also understand that does not mean all the other multivitamins on the market are the same.

And perhaps this particular multivitamin, even though I am no fan of it, might be effective in different groups of people than those who were tested.

Fortunately for me, I have made a habit of researching these things for myself for many years.

If I hadn’t, though?

I might have been turned off of all supplements and that would not have been good.

Because all are NOT created equal.

A Better Study!

Now, what if the scientists studied a superfood blend, made out of real, whole foods? 

Those exist too. 

They can come in pill form or powdered form to be mixed into beverages.

What would those results be?

Well, I can tell you what those results typically are. Because real food nutritional supplementation and dietary inclusion IS studied. They just tend to not be publicized very much.

But don’t worry, that is what I, and Pursuit of Great, are here for.

To share that information with you, so you have every tools available at your disposal.

There are LOADS of whole foods, superfoods, that have been shown to aid in treatment of conditions, help to prevent them in the first place, and boost overall health and wellness.

And we’re only scratching the surface.

So I feel like I have a pretty good idea what might happen if the best superfood supplements were tested, because they have been and so far the results have been amazing.

How to Find the Hidden Truth

Believe it or not, some truths can be found where you least expect them, if you know how to find them.

In fact, leading scientists may have inadvertently made the case for whole food supplementation while it appeared they were repudiating supplements altogether.

To show this, let’s take a closer look at these comments from the lead author of a study that was conducted from 2012 to 2017 that purported to show that vitamin D, calcium and vitamin C did not help in preventing cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke or premature death:

“I don’t want people to say, ‘I can take supplements instead of a good diet.’ Supplements are not the answer for a good diet.” – Dr. David Jenkins

I appreciate and understand where he is coming from and likely agree in some ways.

I believe when it comes to “artificial” supplements, the odds are, in many cases, he is completely right.

But, while this statement seems to say that supplements are a waste, I actually saw it as proof that they are not and a point in the right direction, although I’m not sure he intended it.

How can this be?

Evidence for whole food supplements

You see, if there is no answer for a good diet, then why would we not include whole food, superfood supplements IN our diets?

Surely if diet is the factor that matters, then having the best, most nutrient-dense foods with the most healing and health-boosting phytochemicals ought to be very important, right?

And if those nutrient-dense, healing foods come in “supplement” form, why should we not consume them?

Besides, what is a diet if it is not the food we eat and the drink we drink?

Then what are superfood supplements and superfood drinks if not the food we eat and the drink we drink?

I’d say they are diet.

Remember, I’m not talking about chemical-laden, non-food based vitamin supplements.

I’m talking about whole foods and superfoods. Things like wheatgrass, beet juice, turmeric, moringa oleifera and more.

All real foods from nature that have been shown in the scientific literature to have the potential to prevent or even heal many diseases, as well as enhance overall health.

By this doctor’s own point, it seems I must include these “supplements”, otherwise how can I say I have a good diet if I am not including the best, healthiest, most nutrient-dense, healing foods on the planet?

Which is exactly why I take one bioavailable superfood supplement every day, to make sure my diet is even better than good and to boost and protect my health.

Those superfoods have to have been studied, with those studies proving their health-boosting and disease-preventing properties.

It can’t be some cheap chemical concoction like the ones referenced earlier.

All real food in a real diet with superpowers that regular foods just don’t have.

So, it makes for a great diet, not just a good one, and fits the true bill of what a nutrition supplement is supposed to be.

Not some chemical concoction, but real superfoods that actually have proven effective in scientific studies.

Unless of course you prefer a nice soup of chemicals and fillers, but since you’re here today, I don’t think that’s you.

Don’t miss out on protecting your health and well-being. It’s far too important, and so are you.

There is no answer for a good diet, after all!

Conclusion

At the end of the day, there are many in the mainstream health and wellness community who may have sought to use these types of studies to discount the effectiveness of health supplements.

While I can’t confirm their intentions, I sincerely thank them for their efforts.

Because, as it turns out, what they have really done is not only turn us away from cheap and ineffective supplements but prove that whole food, superfood supplements are not only important, but something for which there is no substitute!

I hope you are able to boost and protect your own health today!

There is no substitute for a good diet, and there is no substitute for you.


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The statements contained on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease. Unless otherwise specified, no writer for PursuitOfGreat.com is a licensed physician, medical doctor, trainer, nutritionist or health professional of any kind. Do not consume anything written about on this website if you are allergic to it.

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Sources for this article include:

https://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/1789248/oral-high-dose-multivitamins-minerals-after-myocardial-infarction-randomized-trial https://www.usnews.com/news/health-care-news/articles/2018-05-29/study-vitamin-supplements-dont-provide-health-benefits https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/news/20131216/experts-dont-waste-your-money-on-multivitamins#1

https://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/1789248/oral-high-dose-multivitamins-minerals-after-myocardial-infarction-randomized-trial


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4 Comments

  1. While I think the survival of the human race is proof enough for not needing supplements, there are always the questions of “Will I be healthier?”, “Will I live longer?”, or “Will it make me better?”. I really liked Dan John’s take on it. If you are not taking the time to floss your teeth, eat right, drink enough water, get enough sleep, regularly working out, and wear your seat belt, you probably need to make a few other life adjustments first.

  2. Pursuit of Great
    at

    Absolutely. That’s the 80 of the 80/20 rule. Then the question becomes, what is indeed a supplement? While some might call a wheatgrass shot, or a wheatgrass shot condensed into pill form, a supplement, others might consider it a part of their diet.

    Harnessing the power of real nutrition is the best supplement we can take. And eliminating junk from our foundational diet along with proper exercise and sleep is what makes any supplementation meaningful in the first place.

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. Excellent blog on multivitamins and making sure it has the ingredients helping and not harming you.

  4. Pursuit of Great
    at

    Thanks Tamyara! Yes, it’s all about that ingredient list!

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