A Dangerous Cocktail

October 3, 2004

Politicizing researchers and lazy journalists are a dangerous cocktail.
It is very disgraceful that the Danish Radio’s TV news presented such a one-sided story about antioxidants, as happened at 6:30 p.m. yesterday, where it declared without any reservation that 9 people out of 1,000 taking antioxidants will die from them!

Just the day before, the Danish (state owned) Radio / Television received a press release from the Vitality Council, which was criticizing the story and emphasized that possible harmful effects can only be caused by taking beta-carotene in large (therapeutic) dosages.

This old news can in no way be used to generalize about other antioxidants. The postulated general overmortality refers to two studies, in which beta-carotene was used in such great amounts that the test persons became yellow.

The Vitality Council also emphasized in its press release that according to the Lancet study, selenium, a potent antioxidant, is able to halve the risk of several kinds of cancer. This result was not at all mentioned in the TV news.

Furthermore, even the official comment in The Lancet dissociated from that which was the only extract on TV from the study: The postulated overmortality. The Lancet comment is written by two statisticians, who are seriously criticizing the statistical preparation of the material, and they state that the conclusion about overmortality is not convincing.

Another critical point out of many is that the Cochrane group removed a study on selenium, which it had announced as being a ”high quality” study, before the calculation on average.

The reason given for removing the study was that it would be given more weight in the random-effects model than in the fixed-effect meta-analysis. The removed high-quality study showed that selenium clearly reduced mortality!

It is not very good science to ignore figures that you do not like.

The TV news journalists have been hunting for some sort of scandal and one-sidedly accepted the very dramatic statements of Christian Gluud, M.D., which went much further than what the study material could ever support.

The Lancet has saved its skin by its serious comment, but the writers have cast a bad shadow over the Cochrane institution.

By: Vitality Council

1. TVA 2.nd October 2004, 6:30.
2. Press release from Vitality Council 1.st October 2004.
3. Goran Bjelakovic, Dimitrinka Nikolova, Rosa G Simonetti, Christian Gluud, Antioxidant supplements for prevention of gastrointestinal cancers: a systematic review and meta-analysis, Lancet 2004;364:1219-28.