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Sunday I wrote about an Associated Press story which said readers and media members surveyed are equally unhappy with lost media credibility. Unfortunately, the loss of credibility and trust is not limited to the media.

With various agendas, deception for profit and political spin continually at work, it's all but impossible to rely on even basic information we once blindly relied upon. The majority of Americans say they depend upon television and newspapers for food safety and most other information. I'll add social media.

We were told for years it was bad to consume salt. Then other research said, well, it's really not all that bad for you. I've read and heard similar things about the hazards of wine, chocolate, processed meats, and coffee, along with pretty much every alarm we've been led for decades to believe is true before being labeled false.

The latest points of contradiction and confusion across society involve everything from food and nutrition supplements to politics. To that I'd add most things marketed for public consumption, often by using exaggeration and fear. This plague has spread worldwide.

A 2014 study based on data from the Annenberg National Health Communication Survey, conducted by Dr. Rebekah Nagler, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Mass Communication, found contradictory diet and health information in the media has made people more likely to ignore widely accepted recommendations.

Participants with the most exposure to inconsistent information became the most confused about matters of nutrition, according to Nagler.

Nicky Lidbetter, chief executive of Anxiety UK, is puzzled by so many conflicting messages. "What can people believe?" she asks. "Our mindsets shift about things. For example, fat was seen as the evil of society, but now it's sugar. People who are already anxious need to know which information they can trust and how applicable what they are reading is."

The latest products falling victim to this scourge of disinformation are nutritional supplements. While the over-the-counter pills and drinks we purchase have long been under suspicion by the FDA and others in mainstream medicine, the status quo in medicine has amplified its concerns of late.

Writing in the Globe and Mail, Paul Taylor concluded, "Unfortunately, the science of nutrition can be complicated and it's prone to spurious findings. What we eat is only one of many factors that determine our overall health. Genetics, lifestyle and the environment also play a role."

A Journal of the American College of Cardiology study found most popular vitamin-related supplements, such as vitamin C, multivitamins and calcium, seemed to provide no meaningful results, although they have been marketed for years as supposedly beneficial.

Researchers analyzed the results of more than 150 randomized clinical trials published between 2012 and 2017, examining trials of 15 vitamin and mineral supplements, including multivitamins. Those included the four most commonly used supplements in the U.S.--vitamins C and D, calcium, and multivitamins. They discovered no significant effects on any cardiovascular health outcomes or on chances of dying prematurely.

For instance, in 43 separate studies there were 2,908 deaths among 18,719 people who took vitamin D. That was compared to 2,968 deaths among 18,831 in control groups.

Lead author David Jenkins, a professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto, said, "We were surprised to find so few positive effects of the most common supplements that people consume. Our review found that if you want to use multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium or vitamin C, it does no harm--but there's no apparent advantage either."

They also discovered a small yet noticeable risk of early death from trials of vitamin B3, or niacin, as well as combined supplements containing two or more antioxidants such as Vitamin A, E, beta-carotene, selenium, and zinc. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independently staffed panel of experts that guides nationwide screening and preventive care practices, reached a similar conclusion in 2014.

There's also confusion over what a heightened risk to one's health actually means. Gerard Blair, assistant editor for news at the U.K.'s National Health Service, said, "Increases in risk can sound scary, but to understand the real-life effect of a rise, you first have to know what your baseline risk is."

He explained that even a statistically significant increase in the risk of developing a condition could only equate to a small fraction of an increase in actual cases.

Meanwhile, core public health advice has remained unchanged for many years. We're advised to exercise regularly, achieve and maintain a healthy weight, eat a nutritious balanced diet, avoid overexposure to sunlight, stick to the alcohol guidelines, and quit smoking to maximize your chances of a long and healthy life.

Don't you wish the alarmists would have left years of frustrating hype and marketing misdirection rest with that simple prescription? Just imagine how much money we'd have saved and they'd have lost.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at

Editorial on 06/19/2018

Print Headline: Pass the salt

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