Why health benefits of dietary supplements might not reach consumers

A column from Daniel Schatzman of Nutritional Outlook magazine analyzed a study that asserts a bias against nutritional supplements in medical journals. While it certainly seems that a bias exists, Schatzman makes a good argument as to why supplements seem unfairly represented in these publications.

After examining 11 medical journals, including the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine, two university researchers concluded the following:

  • Journals with the most pharmaceutical drug ads published no clinical or cohort studies on dietary supplements.
  • In journals with the most drug ads, mentions of supplements being unsafe or ineffective were 63 percent and 50 percent higher, respectively.

Schatzman’s take: Though advertising might have something to do with the apparent bias, there are many other factors that might be keeping supplements down. Here are some other reasons:

  • There might be a bias in the article acceptance and peer-review processes at some journals.
  • Editors and authors might influence these publications with their own views and interests.
  • Studies on pharmaceuticals outnumber those on supplements and supplement ingredients.

Finally, Schatzman calls for the dietary supplement industry to fund major research. Although this is certainly a great recommendation, he goes no further as to how such initiatives would be supported.

Since big pharmaceutical companies have the big bucks to conduct clinical trials and other studies, supplement manufacturers must find other ways to compete. One way might be to form partnerships or associations that would study certain ingredients. The industry at large might benefit from the results of these studies.

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