Shame on AMA’s
Archives of Internal Medicine
October 11, 2011
Did you hear the breaking news last night—that multivitamins may shorten
your life? Here’s how junk science from the AMA set off the media
Bloomberg phrased it this way:
“Multivitamins and some dietary supplements, used regularly by an
estimated 234 million US adults, may do more harm than good, according
to a study that tied their use to higher death rates among older women.”
The study’s authors outrageously concluded, “We see little justification
for the general and widespread use of dietary supplements.”
published in the American Medical Association’s (AMA’s) Archives
of Internal Medicine, assessed the use of vitamin and
mineral supplements in nearly 39,000 women whose average age was 62. The
researchers asked the women to fill out three surveys, the first in
1986, the second in 1997, and the last in 2004, reporting what
supplements they took and what foods they ate, and answering a few
questions about their health.
That’s right, all the data was self-reported by the study subjects only
three times over the course of the 19-year-long study. To say the data
is “unreliable” would be a generous description. This kind of “data” has
no place in a valid scientific study.
Then the researchers looked at how many of the women had died by 2008.
They reported that the number of deaths were somewhat higher for women
who took copper, a little bit lower for women who took calcium, but
about average for most of the women.
In the study, all of the relative risks were so low as to be statistically
insignificant, and none was backed up by any medical
investigation or biological plausibility study. No analysis was done on
what combinations of vitamins and minerals were actually consumed, and
no analysis of the cause of death was done beyond grouping for “cancer,”
“cardiovascular disease,” or “other”—there was certainly no causative
analysis done. The interactions of potential compounding risk factors is
always tremendously complex—and was ignored in this so-called study.
“Multivitamin” can mean many different things, and of course changed
tremendously over the 19 years during which this “study” was conducted.
Were they high quality? Were the ingredients synthetic or natural? How
much of each nutrient was taken? Were they really taken at all? How good
is anyone’s memory in describing what took place over many years? One
would assume that that the women’s diets fluctuated greatly over the
same period; when self-reporting only three times in 19 years, there is
a great deal of information one would naturally leave out even if some
of it was accurate. No analysis was done of the effect of supplements on
the women’s overall health, nor of their effect on women of other ages.
According to Dr. Robert Verkerk the Executive & Scientific Director of
“This study is a classic example of scientific reductionism being used
to fulfill a particular need. In this case, it’s supplement bashing, a
well-known preoccupation of Big Pharma — and an approach that appears to
be central to the protection of Big Pharma’s profit margins.”
Read Dr. Verkerk’s article critical of the AMA’s goals and scientific
In short, this study is less than useless: it is dangerous, because it
is being used by the media and the mainstream medical establishment to
blacken the eye of nutritional supplements using poor data, bad
analysis, and specious conclusions—otherwise known as junk science.