How Dietary Supplement Research is Biased

1065 words | 4 page(s)

Americans enjoy popping pills. It is widely assumed that a pill can fix anything. As a result of this, the dietary supplement business is a multi-billion dollar business. One only has to walk into the diet and nutrition section of any drug store to find numerous possible dietary supplements. All of these various supplements promise to help the user in some way. They claim that “research” supports their ideas. This research is biased. All of them state on the side of the product that these claims are not verified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Rather, they engage in their own research to “prove” that their product works. Since there is a significant financial incentive to find this “proof,” the research is biased. All peer-reviewed scientific clearly must list the scientists who all must disclose any potential conflict of interests. The “studies” on diet supplements do not do this. There is clearly a conflict of interest as well. No one will buy a supplement that does not “promise” something based upon “research.” As a result of these conflicts and the lack of science to actually support the use of these supplements, one can only conclude that the research is clearly biased. This paper will discuss this bias.

The Bias in the Diet Supplement Industry
Doctors have often been accused of being biased against the use of supplements to improve one’s health. It is true that the use of supplements is a growing part of the health industry; it is particularly favored by those who believe in complementary and alternative medicine, rather than traditional Western-based medicine. Doctors who practice traditional medicine cannot support the use of supplements for one major reason: there is no evidence. All modern medicine follows the idea of “evidence-based.” This evidence must meet strict criteria. This includes being peer-reviewed and the declaration of any conflicts of interest. The “research” conducted by the supplement industry does not adhere to these standards. This lack of scientific standards in the nutritional supplement business is the reason why the research should not be considered valid.

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Science must be pure without financial incentive. There is clearly a financial incentive for the supplements industry to find supporting evidence in favor of their products. This industry is known as the VMS industry, which stands for vitamins, minerals and supplements. Currently, the VMS industry is the one of the fastest growing industry in the world, a trend which will continue for future years. In 2012, the industry was worth $32 billion in revenue. This is projected to increase to $60 billion by 2021 (Lariviere, 2013). In order to achieve these financial profits, the industry must promise that its product has the ability to improve the life and wellbeing of the consumer. However, many individuals do not realize that, unlike medications, supplements do not actually have to undergo any type of actual real scientific
Scientific research on medications must also include clinical trials that meet strict requirements. This is one of the reasons why it takes so long to develop new medications in the United States. The required trials can take years. These trials are required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). None of this strictness is required for supplements. They are not regulated in the same manner. This is why there is always a small disclaimer printed on the side of any supplement. The supplement will declare what it can do in large letters. In smaller print, it will state that the promises and claims have not been evaluated by the FDA. In this manner, the FDA’s standards for research have not been upheld. The FDA standards require that all research be submitted. This would include the positive research and the negative research. For this reason, many actual drugs do not pass. There is no requirement for the studies by supplement companies. They can ignore the research that does not support their claim. True science wants the information in favor and against a hypothesis. If only one side is presented, it is clearly biased research. Yet, this is allowed under the current laws (Food and Drug Administration, n.d.).

Research must also be peer-reviewed and published in peer-reviewed journals. These journals do not charge the authors to publish them; they are actually highly competitive. The “studies” produced by the supplement industry are “published” in magazines and online. However, if one looks closely at them, in small print, it indicates that this was a paid advertisement. The supplements industry paid a magazine for a page to “publish” the results of its study. In actuality, some individuals and groups have actually sued the dietary supplements industry for false advertising. The publication of their scientific results promises specific claims regarding a medication. If a pharmaceuticals company sells a product for diabetes, it is reasonable to expect that the medication will treat diabetes in the majority of people who take it. This is likely because of the studies. However, when a supplement company indicates that product x will treat condition y, there is nothing to verify this. This is essentially false advertising on the part of the company. It reflects the bias of the company in supporting its product (Wilson, 2014).

The dietary supplements industry conducts its own research to support its claims about its products. However, the research must be recognized as biased research and not pure scientific research. It is biased because the industry has a significant conflict of interest due to the financial gain of selling its product. Furthermore, it cannot publish this research in true journals. The research is so biased that it can only pay to publish its results. This is why the FDA requires that the supplements indicate the FDA has not evaluated its claims. The industry does not have to follow the strict requirements of the FDA for medication clinicals. Rather, the industry only needs to publish the results that support their product. The results that do not indicate any benefit to their product are never published or evaluated. These are all the hallmarks of biased research.

  • Food and Drug Administration (n.d.). Questions and answers about dietary supplements. Retrieved from: http://www.fda.gov/food/dietarysupplements/qadietarysupplements/#what_info
  • Laraviere, D. (2013, April 18). Nutritional supplements flexing muscle as growth industry. Retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidlariviere/2013/04/18/nutritional-supplements-flexing-their-muscles-as-growth-industry/
  • Wilson, J. (2014, January 8). Weight loss companies charged with false advertising. CNN. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/08/health/weight-loss-companies-fraud/

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