Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Supplement Infographic

There's a lot of "woo" out there, especially when it comes to dietary supplements. Someone shared a great website with me that helps to cut through all the noise of company propaganda and get to the real issue of whether certain supplements do what they claim to do. This website at InformationIsBeautiful has done a great job at organizing the existing data for taking supplements and displaying it in an interactive chart so that you can see what works and what doesn't - and guess what? The majority of supplements out there don't make the cut.  Figures.

Take this screen shot from one of the latest editions of the chart:

The Y-axis represents whether or not the evidence is strong for the supplement in question. By simply scrolling the mouse over the circle you can see what the target effect is - for example, in the image above, the evidence is strong that garlic is good for lowering blood pressure.

The size of the circle around the supplement ID represents its popularity in Google's search engine. Green tea, folic acid, and vitamin D show the most hits, whereas peppermint oil, devil's claw, and melatonin show the fewest hits. The cool color of these circles represents strong evidence - the brown color indicates that supplement does not have much evidence for or against it, and continued surveillance is important.

Now let's look at what didn't make the cut:

Well, well, well - royal jelly, despite the many late night TV ads that have been put out, is probably one of the biggest flavors of snake oil out there. It bottoms out along with wheat grass, chamomile, papain, and certain anti-oxidants for having no effect.

The next time you see a commercial promoting the ingredient of some supplement for a desired effect, check this chart out to verify the claim - most likely the commercial is over-reaching its claims, and could even be distorting the data. If you want to read the science, just click on the circle the website directs you to peer-reviewed published articles that support the claim or refute it.

It's good to be in the know.

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