Thursday, March 4, 2010

Reading The Research Regarding Supplements

By Mary Cissy Majebe, OMD

Each month I receive a newspaper entitled, Family Practice News. It refers to itself as “The Leading Independent Newspaper for the Family Physician.” I look through it as a way of keeping myself up to date with Western medicine, as well as with what the Western medical press may be reporting about alternative or complementary medicine. During the week of December 1, 2008, on page 32, the headline at the top of the page read:

“Prescribed Drugs, Supplements Tied To Liver Injury”

It went on to state: "Single prescription medication was the likely cause of the liver injury in 73% of cases. Multiple prescription medications or a combination of prescription medicine and dietary supplements were the cause in 18%. Single or multiple dietary supplements were the cause in the remaining 9%.”

Needless to say, I was distressed, so I sought out the research citation: “Causes, Clinical Features, and Outcomes From a Prospective Study of Drug-Induced Liver Injury in the United States.” Gastroenterology 2008: 136: 1924-1934. After reading this article, I had a much different picture.

The article’s headline listed both pharmaceuticals and supplements. However, of the total 300 patients in this study, 270 of these liver injuries were linked to either one or multiple pharmaceuticals. Only 30 of these liver injuries were linked to a supplement, and 2 of these 30 were linked to a pharmaceutical and a supplement. In other words, 90% of the liver injuries in this study are associated with pharmaceuticals and 10% to supplement usage. Of the 10% with liver injuries due to supplement usage, 65% of these were using supplements for weight loss and muscle building.

Furthermore, 73% (217 patients) of the liver injuries were due to pharmaceuticals, while 18% (55 patients) were linked to multiple pharmaceutical and supplement usage. Of these 55 patients, 2 of them used a supplement that was also listed as a probable causative agent, including Cell Tech, which is a muscle-building agent for body builders, and a Source of Life multivitamin supplement. For 53% of the 55 patients, they were using multiple pharmaceuticals. For 9% (28 patients), they were linked to supplements. Of these 28 patients, 19 were using supplements geared towards body building or weight loss.

All of the liver injuries that resulted in death (11% or 18 patients) were attributed to pharmaceuticals. No liver injuries in these 18 patients were attributed to supplements. Eight of the patients who were in this study received a transplant. One of these was attributed to an over-the-counter weight loss supplement, CVS Spectravite.

My concern with this type of reporting is that often, I, like many other health care professionals, only read the titles and highlights. Of the total 30 patients who were taking supplements, there were also no indications whether they had been prescribed to them by a Licensed Health Care Practitioner or a Trained and Educated Health Care Practitioner.

I find the article in Family Practice News to be reflective of the bias in the media and in allopathic research, which often highlights aspects of wholistic medicine, rather than focusing on the consequences of an over-medicated society. A point of interest is that all liver injuries due to Acetamenaphin were excluded from this study. I wonder how much smaller would the percentage have been for supplements, if all Liver injuries were included in this report.