Sunday, June 05, 2011

Most 'wasting money on health supplements' finds NHS report

Interesting and pleasing that both antioxidants and Omega 3 get the thumbs down

Most are wasting money on vitamin pills and other health supplements that do them no good, an NHS report has warned.

The market for dietary supplements and vitamins was worth more than £670 million in 2009, according to NHS Choices, which provides general health information.

But, in a new report titled Supplements: Who needs them? the authors concluded: "During our work it has become clear that the widely perceived benefits of certain supplements simply do not have enough robust evidence to support them."

This was partly due to press coverage, partly due to the way they were marketed, and partly due to "the sheer volume of misinformation floating around on the internet."

The report found that vitamin supplements to be a particular area of wasted cash.

Accounting for almost a third of the overall market, at £208 million, the report stated: "There are clearly plenty of people buying vitamin supplements but, surprisingly, only certain groups are considered to benefit from taking them."

This included those over 65; those with darker skin and those who were not exposed to a lot of sun - who should all take vitamin D supplements - and all children from six months to five years, who should take a multivitamin (A, C and D) supplement.

The authors wrote: "If you fall outside of these groups and buy vitamin pills then the chances are that you will be spending your money on surplus amounts of vitamins you've already gained through your diet."

The jury was still out on antioxidants, it reported, concluding that research indicated "it would seem sensible for most of us to rely on a balanced diet" for our intake of the compounds.

There was "little evidence" that some weight loss products sold by "reputable retailers" worked, while a review of how they were marketed found half breached advertising regulations.

It reported there was also "little evidence" that vitamin C supplements were "beneficial within the general community in terms of preventing infection" from cold viruses, although the authors conceded they did seem to reduce cold duration "a little".

However, there was recent evidence that zinc was effective in fighting cold viruses, although it "may not seem worth the expense" at £35 for a five month supply.

While it is recommended that people who have suffered a heart attack eat two to four portions of oily fish a week, it reported that more trials were needed to "confirm suggestions of a protective effect on cardiovascular health".

Neither was there "compelling evidence" that omega-3 fatty acids helped boost children's brainpower, the report warned.

It concluded: "Overall, it is clear that we may be placing our hope in products that still require far more testing."


Ovarian cancer discovery gives hope to women after biggest breakthrough in two decades

A drug has been hailed as the biggest breakthrough in 20 years of ovarian cancer research after trials showed it can increase patients’ life expectancy by up to eight months.

British researchers found Avastin, which is used to treat breast and bowel cancers, is also effective against ovarian cancer.

The disease has been called the ‘silent killer’ because it often has no symptoms in the early stages and in 80 per cent of cases is not detected until it has spread. Currently, the only treatment is chemotherapy following surgery.

Annwen Jones, chief executive of the charity Target Ovarian Cancer, said: ‘It is the first glimmer of hope that there are significant advancements in treatments for ovarian cancer on the horizon.

'There is a moral imperative to ensure Avastin is fast-tracked through the necessary regulatory processes.’

The research, which was revealed at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual conference yesterday, involved more than 1,500 women across Europe with advanced ovarian cancer.

All had their tumour removed and received chemotherapy, but those also given Avastin, which starves tumours of the blood they need to grow and spread, lived on average 7.8 months longer than the control group.

Lead investigator Dr Charlie Gourley, from the Edinburgh Cancer Research UK Centre, said: ‘We would like to be able to make ovarian cancer a chronic, rather than fatal, disease.’

Roche, which manufactures the drug, has applied to the European Medicines Agency for a licence to use it to treat ovarian cancer, which means it could be available before the end of the year.

It will then need to be approved by the Government’s drugs watchdog NICE before it is widely available. In the meantime, women can apply to the Government’s Cancer Drugs Fund to receive the drug.


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