Thursday, 20 September 2012

Pop Science, Bad Science?-Birth of a Neutriceutical

Each year we hear of new neutriceutical treatments for MS. How do these start, well one of the biggest drivers of the spread of information is the internet and the media.

Some of you may have watched last night's Food Hospital on Channel 4 TV- a pop medicine show about using food as medicine.
Yesterdays show highlights just how the media could easily influence the development of a Neutriceutical Fad.

One was an anti-inflammatory OMEGA-3 diet for rheumatoid arthritis and after ten weeks of study low and behold one indicator of inflammation in the blood was reduced....OMEGA-3 the next big thing for arthritis! 

But hang-on, this is just one person's experience and it may not work for others. As you know Youtube is full of "before and after" effects and the placebo effect can be massive. Also what is the nature of that person's cycle of the inflammatory marker in the blood after all the disease may not always be that active. Is that result due to chance?............BAD SCIENCE

Next we had Beetroot-drinking cyclists. The idea was that beetroot juice gives you more energy. Therefore they did a test and had cyclists drink beetroot juice or a placebo in blinded fashion. POP SCIENCE EXPERIMENT


They found that 6 out of nine cylists did a faster time when doing circuits of the track. So the clear inference was Drink Beetroot Juice, but we need to do more.

Hang-on again. If the juice did nothing we would expect half to do better and half to do worse. So you test this statisitically where the NULL hypothesis that there was no effect of drinking beetroot. The results cannot disprove this. Therefore the reality and the conclusion should be that there is no evidence to support the use of beetroot juice as an energy drink......BAD SCIENCE and further more was the study really powered (had enough people in it to give us a reasonable chance of finding a difference if there is one) to actually give us an answer I suspect not (they would need about 35 cyclists)....BAD SCIENCE.


Whilst I am not saying beetroot juice does not give you energy..... it may not. Now someone watching last nights show sticks it on the internet that Beetroot juice gives you energy because it was proved on TV and off we go. You may feel it does something, maybe because you are buying it and so it must be good......and so begins the nutriceutical. This is why you need properly powered and controlled trials.

So when you read any wonder treatment on the internet, First be sceptical, second be sceptical, third be sceptical and then do a lot of research to find out what is actually being shown before you part with your cash.

We see this type of study time and time again, including some on this BLOG, in studies on MS. Results give a whiff of an effect but one needs a larger study to actually show if things do anything. Therefore to get an answer takes twice as long, so maybe better to do them properly in the first place and not bother with half-cocked studies.  

p.s. for all viewers of the programme enjoy counting the Pooh- Another POP Experiment on Dietry Fibre

1 comment:

  1. Beetroot for the brain and dementia
    Apparently drinking beetroot juice increases blood flow to the brain in older people, which may be able to fight the progression of dementia, a 2010 study suggested.

    Beetroot contains high concentrations of nitrates, which are converted into nitrites by bacteria in the mouth. Nitrites help open blood vessels in the body, increasing blood flow and oxygen to places lacking in oxygen.

    Previous studies have shown that nitrites widen blood vessels, but US researchers writing in Nitric Oxide: Biology and Chemistry, the peer-reviewed journal of the Nitric Oxide Society, say theirs was the first to find that nitrites also increase blood flow to the brain.

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