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Research Center

Media Health Articles and You

03/06/2000

Question:

Hi, I wonder if you saw the article in Sunday`s Cincinnati Enquirer magazine section, entitled "Boost Your Brain." I ask because I`m teaching Freshman composition students how to spot bogus arguments in research. I`m not a nutritionist but this article seems packed with weasel statements, unsupported arguments and flat-out untruths, some of which are probably dangerous. I`m considering using the article for classroom purposes. Do you have a similar reading of this piece? If so, can you suggest places I can look for a corrective view? Thanks for the help.

Answer:

The article you speak of caught my eye as well, and I too am a bit skeptical of all the claims proposed. I do not have a "similar reading", though Prevention magazine may be a good place to start. Prevention seems to post lots of health claims that seem too good to be true. Notice the excessive use of exclamation marks in Preventions` articles!!!

Jean Carper is a health writer, not a dietitan or medical doctor. A good majority of her claims are backed up by scientific research, though some of them are questionable. For example, the piece written about vitamin E is not current. Recent research actually suggests that vitamin E may NOT be helpful to older patients that already have a high risk for cardiovascular events. No vitamin "acts as Roto Rooter" in my opinion. Research published in the January 2000 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that vitamin E supplementation has no effect on cardiovascular outcomes in high risk patients. Vitamin E supplementation is not harmful, but may only be beneficial in preventing heart disease and stroke in healthy subjects. In addition, there is not enough scientific research to back up the use of coenzyme Q. It is an expensive supplement, and it has not been thoroughly clinically tested to make such claims. If co-enzyme Q10 were such an important nutrient, an RDA would be established for it. Fortunately, none of the information presented was harmful (unless people overdose on the supplements suggested). Eating more fruits and vegetables and less fat and sugar is certainly good advice for anyone. However, to make the leap that eating too much sugar can cause "permanent damage to brain cells leading to malfunction & death" is a bit of a stretch.

I have also never heard of vinegar or lemon juice "suppressing a rise in blood sugar". Show me the research! Finally, chromium supplementation is only benefical to those that are chromium deficient. Supplements are of no use in blood sugar control in well-nourished individuals. In closing, my advice on finding the truths in any health claim is to look for several studies done at well-respected research centers. The research should be valid, and not based on anecdotal claims. If there is a possibility of placebo effect (as in the study done with selenium), this should be considered in the findings. I typically use Pubmed or medline in evaluating current research in nutrition or other field. I try to search for several sources (both medical and nutrition journals) before making a conclusion.

It`s also a good idea to refer people to the expert in that field for information. If I want information on a new drug, I check with a pharmacist. If I need information on skin cancer, I talk to a dermatologist. You get the point. For more information about spotting bogus nutrition claims, check with the Nutrition Council of Cincinnati (621-3262). Thanks again for your inquiry.

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Response by:

Lisa Cicciarello Andrews, MEd, RD, LD Lisa Cicciarello Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
Adjunct Faculty
University of Cincinnati