Nice article in Huff Post on how a new large study showed that high dose multi-vitamins helped reduce heart attack risk better than statin drugs. Regrettably, the study appears to have been done by researchers who seem to have ignored the sub-analysis. The paper brings up a bigger media attack led by university researchers on alternative medicine.
Vitamins and supplements are bad for university businesses. “University Businesses”, that’s an oxymoron right? Universities are places of higher learning funded by government to teach our young adults and advance science, right? Well, only partly true when it comes to medicine. Since the passage of the Bayh-Doyle act in the 1980s, universities have become big businesses. They can now commercialize discoveries paid for by our tax dollars. The core feature of the money making university machine is the patent. In medicine, these patents can end up being worth from millions to billions to university coffers through spin off businesses. The problem with Vitamins and supplements? No patents, hence no bucks. The most a university business can gain from supplements is a study sponsored by NIH, which do allow the university to take about 1/3 of the money for administrative fees. However, once the study is done, supplements only compete with university drug interests and patents. It’s in that context that this new study enters stage left…
The study was on thousands of heart attack patients who either took high dose multi-vitamins or didn’t. In addition, many patients in the study also took statins or didn’t (which wasn’t the goal of the study, but instead seems to be just a reflection of the fact that many heart patients refuse to take statins due to side effects). As the Huff Post article points out, the university researchers reported that taking the high dose vitamins had no statistically significant benefit on the number of heart attacks suffered by these patients over about 5 years. However, a simple close look at the data shows that the vitamins did benefit heart patients who didn’t take statins and didn’t benefit those who took statins. In fact, when you compare the number of heart attacks in the patients only on vitamins to those only on statins, the vitamins helped reduce events more than the statin drugs themselves! This fits with our analysis of the lack luster effects of statins and their huge side effect profile.
IMHO there’s nothing wrong with brilliant university scientists who get a cut of the royalties from their patents and discoveries. However, in this case the media totally missed the conflict of interest so they didn’t look at the sub-analysis and went with the conclusion that high dose vitamins didn’t work. They even went as far as printing the acerbic statement from the researchers that people are wasting their money on vitamins when the truth of the data shows that people are wasting their money on statins!
Did the media miss conflicts? For example, the lead author Dr. Lamas states on his disclosure form to the medical journal that he has no conflicts, but the Pro Publica web-site lists payments from Eli Lilly, a manufacturer of competing drugs. Dr. Lamas was also involved in the OAT study, which made the following disclosures in a recent editorial:
What was the OAT study? A study that looked at statin therapy versus stenting. Was the lead author conflicted? You decide. What I can tell you is that most people that read the story never got a chance to weigh all of the evidence and all of the potential conflicts.
The upshot? Universities have been on the warpath about supplements for years. The media often buys the rhetoric without looking under the hood as to why these comments arise-i.e. commercially competitive behavior. In the meantime, if you are interested in whether vitamins vs statins are better for heart attack risk, read the article and decide for yourself if you want to take high dose vitamins, as this paper suggests they may help heart disease.