Edinburgh Natural Health Centre
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom

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“Antioxidants Increase Mortality” - REVIEW IS FARCICAL

Yet more bad science was reported throughout the media this week, leading to widespread panic about the use of nutritional supplements. The "study" was led by Serbian scientist and "visiting researcher" at Copenhagen University Hospital, Goran Bjelakovic, whose name is now synonymous with vitamin meta-analyses (studies of other studies) which appear to show that vitamin supplements either don't work or end up increasing your risk of death.

The Danish researchers reviewed 67 trials dating back to 1977 in which the effect of antioxidants were analysed, and have come to the conclusion that beta carotene, vitamin A and vitamin E may increase mortality.  The strangest thing about this review is that the relative mortality risk, which forms the basis of the claims that vitamins decrease life expectancy, is calculated using information from studies which sometimes quote the exact opposite.  For example, the trial with the highest increased mortality risk of 3.3% (1 patient in a study of 12) was conducted by Prince et al1 who clearly concluded that “one patient died from unrelated causes during active treatment”.   

Another trial which the review claims found an increased mortality rate was by Chylak et al2.  A closer inspection reveals that what the researchers actually recorded was that “twelve patients died during the course of the five year trial.  Fishers exact test did not reach significance for the difference between treatment groups”.  They even go on to say that “there were no serious safety issues during the trial”.

Mooney et al3, while having one of the highest mortality risk increases according to the Danish reviewers, actually records a section in the full report entitled “Adverse events” which goes on to clarify that “one participant died from a myocardial infarct and 2 cancers were identified during the study.  It is unlikely that these events were associated with vitamin supplementations due to the short exposure before diagnosis and the long latency of cancer”.  Not only that - this trial actually found that taking vitamins E and C could significantly reduce the levels of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that are elevated in smokers, “suggesting that antioxidant supplementation may mitigate some of the procarcinogenic effects of exposure”

If you look a little further into the full text of a study by Manuel-y-Keenoy et al4, which has been recorded by the reviewers as resulting in a 3% increase in mortality risk, you can see that nowhere in the study does it state that anyone even died.  It does record that “during the course of the study one patient from each group dropped out, one due to thyroid dysfunction and one due to an accident.  These two patients are not included in the statistical analysis”.

While being used by the Danish researchers as further evidence of the danger of antioxidants, what Salonen et al 5 actually say in their study is that “Both the vitamin E and C were safe.  There were neither excess deaths nor excess of other adverse events in the groups randomised to supplements”.  It is interesting just to note that the authors of this trial concluded that “this randomised clinical trial shows that long term supplementation of hypercholesterolemic persons with reasonable doses of both vitamin E and slow- release vitamin C combined can retard the progression of common carotid atherosclerosis, especially in men”.
Unfortunately bad news sells, and it would seem that both the scientists responsible for this review and the media, have decided to yet again scaremonger the general public.  Once again those that take positive action to not only increase life expectancy but to improve life quality, are left questioning their decisions.  I hope this short review helps avoid that.
1. Prince MI, Mitchison HC, Ashley D, et al.  Oral antioxidant supplementation for fatigue associated with primary biliary cirrhosis: results of a multicentre, randomised, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial.  Aliment Pharmacol Ther.  2003;17:137-143

2. Chylak LT Jr, Brown NP, Bron A, et al.  The Roche European American Cataract Trial (REACT): a randomised clinical trial to investigate the efficacy of an oral antioxidant micronutrient mixture to slow progression of age-related cataract.  Ophthalmic Epidemiol.  2002;9:49-80

3. Mooney LA, Madsen AM, Tang D, et al.  Antioxidant vitamin supplementation reduces benzo(a)pyrene-DNA adducts and potential cancer risk in female smokers.  Cancer Epidemiol BioMarkers Prev.  2005;14:237-242

4. Manuel-y-Keenoy B, Vinckx M, Vertommen J, Van Gaal L, De Leeuw I.  Impact of vitamin E supplementation on lipoprotein peroxidation and composition in type I diabetic patients treated with atorvasstatin.  Atherosclerosis.  2004;175:369-376

5. Salonen RM, Nyyssonen K, Kaikkonen J, et al.  Antioxidant supplmentation in atherosclerosis prevention study:six year effect of combined vitamin A and E supplementation on therosclerotic progression: the Antioxidant Supplementation in Atherosclerosis Prevention (ASAP) Study.  Circulation.  2003;107:947-953

Source Nutri Supplement No 97:  19 April 2008

28 December 2007
“Excerpt from the New Scientist, 11 November 2006, p 17

Give me fever
When you are ill, having a fever is not necessarily a bad thing. Now we know
a little more about why: an elevated body temperature helps the immune
system identify the cause of an infection and then eradicate it, say Sharon
Evans and colleagues at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New

The team replicated the effects of a fever in mice by keeping them at 39.5C.
This doubled the number of lymphocytes passing through the lymph nodes,
which is where the immune system checks which lymphocytes recognise any
infective agents. Those that do are rapidly multiplied and sent out in the
bloodstream to combat the pathogen.

An elevated body temperature somehow activates cells in the lymph nodes that
in turn solicit more lymphocytes to pass through, says Evans. This should
help the body react faster to infection.
(Natural Immunology, DOI: 10.1038/ni1406).”

PAINKILLERS: Who needs drugs when acupuncture works?

If the NSAID painkillers cause gastric bleeding and the COX-2 variety can lead to heart problems, where can you turn? Step forward acupuncture, the painkilling method used by traditional Chinese medicine for a thousand years or so.

Western medicine has this week finally conceded that it does work. In two separate trials published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers found it was an effective pain reliever for people with neck pain and as an effective treatment for sufferers of osteoarthritis.

In the first trial, Dr George Lewith and colleagues at Southampton University compared acupuncture with electrical stimulation of acupuncture points on a group of 135n patients with neck pain. Those in the acupuncture group reported a 'statistically significant' reduction in the neck pain. "We need to understand why such a safe treatment is so effective in the long term," Dr Lewith said.

Acupuncture was also found to be an effective treatment for osteoarthritis.
A group of 570 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee were treated either with 26 sessions of acupuncture, or of 'sham' acupuncture where the needles are not inserted, or had educational sessions on lifestyle changes. At the end of the trial period the acupuncture group experienced greater improvements in pain levels and general mobility than those in either of the other two groups. "This echoes the results of studies we have been doing for 11 years
now," commented lead researcher Dr Brian Bergin, director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Not that you could get your hands on a COX-2 drug in the UK. In a move that suggests an unprecedented interest in public health, regulators have ordered doctor to stop prescribing the drugs. Meantime the share price of Pfizer, the world's largest pharmaceutical company,
has collapsed after news about problems with its COX-2 drug, Celebrex, finally reached the money markets.

Perhaps they could start investing in some needles.
(Source: Annals of Internal Medicine, 2004; 141: 901-10 (Berman study), 911-19 (Lewith study)).
(Per WDDTY email)


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The type of vitamin C that can fight cancer
There's been a lot of bad publicity of late about vitamin C as a cancer fighter, which has been remarkably timely for the European bureaucrats and their UK compatriots (aka House of Commons) seeking to ban all high-dose nutritionals.
Worse, the publicity has also probably stopped some cancer victims from using the therapy.
The recent publicity has claimed that even 200 mg of vitamin C could cause cancer, an extraordinary conclusion based on one test-tube study, and one that flies in the face of over 90 well-conducted trials that have proved vitamin C acts both as a preventative and as a cancer fighter. But the confusion (what little there is) seems to centre on the types of vitamin C that are used. Several recent studies have suggested that 10,000 mg a day of vitamin C in its sodium ascorbate form is an effective cancer fighter. Another common form, as dry ascorbic acid, didn't seem to work as well, although the work of Abram Hoffer suggests otherwise. Hoffer worked with ascorbic acid at 12,000 mg a day, and he found that it complemented conventional therapies such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy when it was used with other supplements, such as vitamins A, B, E and zinc. Most research suggests the sodium ascorbate form is the best way forward, and although ascorbic acid might be effective, it should only be administered by a therapist who really knows what he's doing. * And those of you who still wonder why doctors don't take a more serious look at vitamin C as a cancer therapy need look no further than a recent copy of the New York Times. There they would have read that, under the American health insurance scheme, doctors buy their chemotherapy drugs for just $3, but claim back $17.50 each time from the insurer. It helps to pay for office costs and staff, explain oncologists. (Source: Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, 2003; 239: 104-6).

Supplements improve antisocial behaviour among criminals
Most types of mental illness, such as depression, mood swings and so on, are caused by a nutritional lack. This view was further vindicated in test that involved 231 young adult prisoners who were given either a multivitamin and mineral supplement or a placebo for 20 weeks. Compared with the placebo group, the group who had the supplements committed an average of 26 per cent fewer offences afterwards. (Source: British Journal of Psychiatry, 2002; 181: 22-8).

READERS' CORNER How safe are tampons? One reader has been alerted to the possible health dangers of wearing tampons or sanitary towels. Regular tampons contain two substances that are potentially harmful: rayon, to help absorbency, and dioxin, a chemical used to bleach the products. Dioxin is a known carcinogenic, while rayon fibres can stay in the vagina, possibly causing toxic shock syndrome (TSS). TSS was a major concern in the 1970s and 80s. In 1980 alone, 38 women in the USA died from it and, of these, 71 per cent had been using a brand of tampons that had recently come on the market. The Public Health Laboratory Service in the UK reckons that two to three women die from "menstrually-related" TSS every year. Dioxin is another concern, although very few cases of cancer have been directly linked to the wearing of tampons. Peter Stephenson, director-general of the Absorbent Hygiene Products Manufacturers Association, which represents tampon manufacturers, is less than sympathetic about women's health concerns. He has been reported as saying: "It's amazing we haven't removed women en masse from the earth if we believed half the things that were said about these things." The fact that three women in the UK alone die every year from wearing tampons should be cause enough for concern, especially when there are safer options available.
Possibly the best-known alternative is the Natracare tampon, made from 100 per cent organic materials. It can be found at most pharmacy outlets, such as Boot's, or telephone 01275 371764 for your nearest outlet if you're in the UK, or 303 617 3476 if you're in the USA or Canada. Another option is the Eco Yarn Organic Tampon, which is supplied by Miskis on 020 7025 8299 if you're in the UK (or 44 207 025 8299 if you're not).
Finally, conventional tampons are a plague on the environment. The Women's Environmental Network has estimated that it takes six months for a tampon to biodegrade, while a plastic sanitary towel can last for hundreds of years.
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Survey on Acupuncture Safety

How do you know acupuncture is safe? What research is there?
Until now, not a lot, but some of our patients in 2001 were kind enough to complete a questionnaire from the Research Director of the Foundation for Traditional Chinese Medicine in York. Over some months, there were 34,407 acupuncture treatments on which the questionnaire was based.
A total of 43 significant minor adverse events were reported, a result consistent with, given a 95% probability, an underlying serious adverse event rate of between 0 and 1.1 per 10,000 treatments. These events included severe nausea and fainting, aggravations of existing symptoms, local pain and bruising at the site of needling and psychological and emotional reactions.
The 574 practitioners who participated in this survey comprised one in three members of the British Acupuncture Council. That such a large percentage of the total membership of a professional association took part is a measure of acupuncturists' commitment to the safety of their patients.
Compared to existing evidence on the risks associated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, acupuncture is a relatively safe intervention when practised by professional acupuncturist who are members of the British Acupuncture Council.
Given that the whole membership delivers between one and a half and two million treatments a year, this survey provides important evidence on public health and safety.
(Excerpts from 'Safety in Numbers', published on p 13 of European Journal of Oriental Medicine, Vol 3, No 6: Winter 2002)
Acupuncture excellent for keeping babies healthy!
Not just acupuncture, but acupressure techniques which we can teach Mum to do regularly: great for helping the baby recover faster. (But if you aren't sure of yourself, ask about Homeopathy!)
Acupuncture beats morning sickness
Many of our patients have found how effective acupuncture is for morning sickness. It is nice to see that Australian researchers have now proved this.
Trials on 600 volunteers, all less than 14 weeks pregnant, found that only one acupuncture was sometimes enough to help significantly, though usually they received one twenty minute session at weekly intervals for four weeks. Acupuncture points were used on the legs, arms and abdomen, and the acupuncture was done by practitioners trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the kind we do here.
Interestingly, NeiGuan, the name of the point much favoured in DIY pressure point therapy, on the inside of the forearm, took around one extra week to work. In other words, it did work, but slower. This fits in with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory, which says that the treatment must fit the patient: there is no single point that fits everyone, and designing the treatment for the particular syndrome (as defined in TCM) is much more effective.
(Source: Adelaide University and the Women's and Children's Hospital in Adelaide)