Friday, June 8, 2012

It's Not What You Know That Gets You Into Trouble..."

...It's what you know for sure that does." - Mark Twain

Some readers may ask what makes me a more reliable source of information about dietary supplements that the hundreds of vendors that sell them, the many doctors that recommend them, and the countless users that swear by them?

There is no good answer to that question because given the enormity of medical research and the doubling of medical knowledge every five years, it is impossible for any single individual to claim absolute certainty regarding any aspect of medicine. For example, people who eat poorly do not always die from heart disease and people who eat healthy still develop cancer. That said, I have dedicated the past two years to understanding all that I can about dietary supplements. This includes at least a dozen books regarding nutrition and wellness, and easily over ten thousand studies. I've given a few dozen lectures on the topic and fielded hundreds of questions from my audiences. Over the past year, I've also had detailed discussions with hundreds of patients regarding their supplement usage.

Every day, I learn new things and build on my knowledge. It is an endless process, but I am a truth seeker, first and foremost for my own edification, and then for my family, friends, patients, and the community at large. With no vested interest on either side of the great divide, I can follow where the facts lead.The facts lead me repeatedly that no one should take a supplement without a scientifically validated reason and a known deficiency.

Yesterday, it pained me to write a response to an email I receive from the Harvard Medical School Health Newsletter. I take great pleasure in my Harvard affiliation (the business school) and it is disturbing when something bearing Harvard's name does a disservice to the community. Unfortunately, an article about calcium supplementation appearing in the newsletter provided such a disservice.

Today, many articles focused on nutrition take a piecemeal approach. They focus on one aspect while ignoring another. This particular newsletter was guilty of that sin. An article about getting sufficient calcium in the diet cited fortified fruit juices as a good source.  First, of all I always recommend natural versus fortified sources of any mineral. Second, fruit juices are notoriously unhealthy because they often lack the fiber from the fruit, thereby having been stripped of much of its nutritional value, and juices often have highly concentrated fructose (sugar). Lastly, this article about calcium failed to cite the recent studies regarding the dangers of calcium supplementation.

It's flabbergasting that expected sources of reliable information take the same fluff approach as more notorious sources. If this was a matter of opinion, we could have a healthy debate. Undoubtedly, the facts speak for themselves.

By the way, the best newsletter I read remains the Tuft's University Nutrition Letter.

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