The whole business of taking supplements to improve your heart and overall health can be truly bewildering. Which vitamins should I be taking? Are they really having an effect? Are they doing more harm than good? These are all questions that most of us have pondered, and the media has done very little to help our frustrations. In fact, they actively contribute to the confusion.
In addition to protecting us from the cold and flu, we were recently told by some news outlets “vitamin D supplements may prevent heart disease”. Four months later, another headline reads, “Vitamin D does not prevent cardiovascular disease”. Last year, a mainstream tabloid paper’s headline announced, “Calcium supplements may damage your HEART”. 12 days later on WebMD: “Calcium supplements won’t harm the heart”. So why are there so many mixed messages and what should be done to stop the public from being misled?
A study was carried out in 2014 that analysed the link between contradictory nutrition news and consumer confusion. It found that with regard to the research being cited, different institutes may produce conflicting results on similar topics that happen to be cross purpose. Generally, the public is not able to discern this or it simply isn’t made clear.
The author urges journalists to avoid relying on information based on findings from a single health study and to instead report on findings from groups of studies. However, the best advice would be to avoid newspaper outlets for this type of information and to instead read sources that aren’t motivated by sensationalism (e.g. NHS website).
Kamal Patel, director at a popular health organisation, explains that one of the main reasons for the lack of consensus is that nutritional epidemiology is complex (harder than most other areas of health research), difficult, and slow moving. Furthermore, genetics are a large determining factor in how certain foods affect us. Thus, genetics can significantly impact the results of a study (accounting for disparity between some findings).