MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

vitamin

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If you have been following my blog for a while, you probably know the answer to this question. A recent article published in JAMA re-emphasizes it in an exemplary fashion:

According to National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data, 52% of surveyed US adults reported using at least 1 dietary supplement in the prior 30 days and 31% reported using a multivitamin-mineral supplement. The most commonly cited reason for using supplements is for overall health and wellness and to fill nutrient gaps in the diet. Cardiovascular disease and cancer are the 2 leading causes of death and combined account for approximately half of all deaths in the US annually. Inflammation and oxidative stress have been shown to have a role in both cardiovascular disease and cancer, and dietary supplements may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidative effects.

Objective  To update its 2014 recommendation, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) commissioned a review of the evidence on the efficacy of supplementation with single nutrients, functionally related nutrient pairs, or multivitamins for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mortality in the general adult population, as well as the harms of supplementation.

Population  Community-dwelling, nonpregnant adults.

Evidence Assessment  The USPSTF concludes with moderate certainty that the harms of beta carotene supplementation outweigh the benefits for the prevention of cardiovascular disease or cancer. The USPSTF also concludes with moderate certainty that there is no net benefit of supplementation with vitamin E for the prevention of cardiovascular disease or cancer. The USPSTF concludes that the evidence is insufficient to determine the balance of benefits and harms of supplementation with multivitamins for the prevention of cardiovascular disease or cancer. Evidence is lacking and the balance of benefits and harms cannot be determined. The USPSTF concludes that the evidence is insufficient to determine the balance of benefits and harms of supplementation with single or paired nutrients (other than beta carotene and vitamin E) for the prevention of cardiovascular disease or cancer. Evidence is lacking and the balance of benefits and harms cannot be determined.

Recommendation  The USPSTF recommends against the use of beta carotene or vitamin E supplements for the prevention of cardiovascular disease or cancer. (D recommendation) The USPSTF concludes that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of the use of multivitamin supplements for the prevention of cardiovascular disease or cancer. (I statement) The USPSTF concludes that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of the use of single- or paired-nutrient supplements (other than beta carotene and vitamin E) for the prevention of cardiovascular disease or cancer. (I statement)

The report also elaborates on potential harms:

For many of the vitamins and nutrients reviewed, there was little evidence of serious harms. However, an important harm of increased lung cancer incidence was reported with the use of beta carotene by persons who smoke tobacco or have occupational exposure to asbestos.

Excessive doses of vitamin supplements can cause several known adverse effects; for example, moderate doses of vitamin A supplements may reduce bone mineral density, and high doses may be hepatotoxic or teratogenic. Vitamin D has potential harms, such as a risk of hypercalcemia and kidney stones, when given at high doses. The potential for harm from other supplements at high doses should be carefully considered.

There is nothing new here, of course. I (and others) have been trying to get these points across for many years. But it is nevertheless most gratifying to see the message repeated by a top journal such as JAMA. I hope JAMA is more successful than I was in changing the behavior of the often all too gullible public!

When I first saw this, I was expecting something like If Homeopathy Beats Science (Mitchell and Webb) – YouTube : videos (reddit.com). But no, “Acute Care Homeopathy for Medical Professionals” is not a masterpiece by gifted satirists. It is much better; it is for real! In fact, it is a collaboration between the “Academy of Homeopathy Education” (AHE) and the American Institute of Homeopathy (AIH). Together, they published the following announcement:

AHE and AIH are pleased to present a customized educational program designed for busy medical professionals interested in enhancing their practice and expanding the treatment tools available with Homeopathy. Grounded in the original theory and philosophy of Homeopathy, AHE’s quality curriculum empowers practitioners and the material’s inspirational delivery encourages further study towards the mastery of Homeopathy for chronic care.

This course is open to all licensed healthcare providers— medical, osteopathic, naturopathic, dentists, chiropractors, veterinarians, nurse practitioners, nurses, physician assistants, pharmacologists and pharmacists.

Acute-care homeopathy addresses the challenges of 21st-century medical practice.

Among many things, you’ll learn safe and effective ways to manage pain and mitigate antibiotic overuse with FDA-regulated and approved Homeopathic remedies. AHE delivers an integrated learning experience that combines online real-time classroom experiences culminating in a telehealth based clinical internship allowing participants to study from anywhere in the world.

AHE’s team of Homeopathy experts have taught thousands of students around the globe and are known for unparalleled academic rigor, comprehensive clinical training, and robust research initiatives. AHE ensures that every graduate develops the necessary critical thinking skills in homeopathy case taking, analysis, and prescribing to succeed in practice with confidence and competence.

  • Smart and savvy tech support team helps to on-board and train even the most reticent digital participants
  • Academic support professionals provide an educational safety-net
  • Stellar faculty to inspire confidence and encourage students to achieve their best work
  • “Fireside Chats,” forums, and social gatherings build community
  • Tried and true administrative systems keep things running smoothly so you can focus on learning Homeopathy.

All AHE students receive Radar Opus, the leading software package used by professional homeopaths worldwide.

Upon completion of the didactic program, practitioners begin an Acute Care Internship through AHE and the Homeopathy Help Network’s Acute Care Telehealth Clinic “Homeopathy Help Now” (HHN) which sees thousands of cases each year. Upon successful completion of the internship, practitioners will be invited to participate in ongoing supervised practice through HHN.

AHE is part of a larger vision to shape the future of Homeopathy: HOHM Foundation and the Homeopathy Help NetworkAll clinical services are delivered in an education and research-driven model. HOHM’s Office of Research has multiple peer-reviewed publications focused on education, practice, and clinical outcomes. HOHM is committed to funding Homeopathy study and research at every level.

The Academy of Homeopathy Education (AHE) operates in conjunction with HOHM Foundation, a 501c3 initiative committed to education, advocacy, and access. The Homeopathy Help Network is a telehealth clinic providing fee-for-service chronic care as well as donation-based acute care through Homeopathy Help Now.

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I suspect you simply cannot wait to enroll. To learn more about “Acute Care Homeopathy for Medical Professionals” please fill out the form.

… and don’t forget to pay the fee of US$ 5 500.

No, it’s not expensive, if you think about it. After all, acute-care homeopathy addresses the challenges of 21st-century medical practice.

Brite is an herbal energy drink that is currently being marketed aggressively. It is even for sale in one leading UK supermarket. It comes in various flavors the ingredients of which vary slightly.

The pineapple/mango drink, for instance, contains:

  • guarana extract,
  • green tea extract,
  • guayusa extract,
  • ashwagandha extract,
  • matcha tea,
  • ascorbic acid (vitamin C),
  • natural caffeine.

The website of the manufacturer tells us that Brite uses ingredients and dosages that are safe and effective, utilising the power of nootropic superfoods organic Matcha, Guarana and Guayusa to provide a long-lasting boost.

Brite is based on peer reviewed, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials and studies that can be found here.

It does not tell us the dosages of the ingredients, and I am puzzled by the claim that the drink is safe. A quick search seems to cast considerable doubt on it.

_____________________________

Guarana (Paullinia cupana) is a plant from the Amazon region with a high content of bioactive compounds. It is by no means free of adverse effects. It is known to interact with:

And it can cause the following adverse effects:

Green tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. It can cause the following adverse effects:

  • headache,
  • nervousness,
  • sleep problems,
  • vomiting,
  • diarrhea,
  • irritability,
  • irregular heartbeat,
  • tremor,
  • heartburn,
  • dizziness,
  • ringing in the ears,
  • convulsions,
  • confusion.

Guayusa is a plant native to the Amazon rainforest that contains plenty of caffeine. Its adverse effects include:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Rapid Heartbeat
  • Anxiety
  • Jitters
  • Energy Crashes
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Upset Stomach

Ashwagandha is a plant from India; the root and berry are used in Ayurvedic medicine. Its adverse effects include:

  • stomach upset,
  • diarrhea,
  • vomiting.

Matcha tea also contains a high amount of caffeine. It is associated with the following adverse effects:

Caffeine is a chemical found in coffee, tea, cola, guarana, mate, and other products. Adverse effects include:

  • insomnia,
  • nervousness,
  • restlessness,
  • stomach irritation,
  • nausea and vomiting,
  • increased heart rate and respiration,
  • headache,
  • anxiety,
  • agitation,
  • chest pain,
  • ringing in the ears.

A case report documented a case of myocardial infarction in a 25-year-old man who presented to the emergency department with chest pain. The patient had been consuming massive quantities of caffeinated energy drinks daily for the past week. This case report and previously documented studies support a possible connection between caffeinated energy drinks and myocardial infarction.

________________________

Yes, the adverse effects are predominantly (but not exclusively) caused by high doses. Yet, the claim that Brite is safe should nevertheless be taken with a very large pinch of salt. If I like the taste of the drink and thus consume a few bottles per day, the dosages of the ingredients would surely be high!

And what about the claim that it is effective? Here the pinch of salt must be even larger, I am afraid. I could not find a single trial that confirmed the notion. For backing up their claims, the manufacturers offer a few references, but if you look them up, you will find that they were not done with the mixture of ingredients contained in Brite.

So, what is the conclusion?

Based on the evidence that I have seen, the herbal drink ‘Brite’ has not been shown to be an effective nootropic. In addition, there are legitimate concerns about the safety of the product. I for one will therefore not purchase the (rather expensive) drink.

Micronutrient supplements such as vitamin D, vitamin C, and zinc have been used in managing viral illnesses. However, the clinical significance of these individual micronutrients in patients with Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) remains unclear. A team of researchers conducted this meta-analysis to provide a quantitative assessment of the clinical significance of these individual micronutrients in COVID-19.

They performed a literature search using MEDLINE, Embase, and Cochrane databases through December 5th, 2021. All individual micronutrients reported by ≥ 3 studies and compared with standard-of-care (SOC) were included. The primary outcome was mortality. The secondary outcomes were intubation rate and length of hospital stay (LOS). Pooled risk ratios (RR) and mean difference (MD) with corresponding 95% confidence intervals (CI) were calculated using the random-effects model.

The authors identified 26 studies (10 randomized controlled trials and 16 observational studies) involving 5633 COVID-19 patients that compared three individual micronutrient supplements (vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc) with SOC.

Vitamin C

Nine studies evaluated vitamin C in 1488 patients (605 in vitamin C and 883 in SOC). Vitamin C supplementation had no significant effect on mortality (RR 1.00, 95% CI 0.62–1.62, P = 1.00), intubation rate (RR 1.77, 95% CI 0.56–5.56, P = 0.33), or LOS (MD 0.64; 95% CI -1.70, 2.99; P = 0.59).

Vitamin D

Fourteen studies assessed the impact of vitamin D on mortality among 3497 patients (927 in vitamin D and 2570 in SOC). Vitamin D did not reduce mortality (RR 0.75, 95% CI 0.49–1.17, P = 0.21) but reduced intubation rate (RR 0.55, 95% CI 0.32–0.97, P = 0.04) and LOS (MD -1.26; 95% CI -2.27, −0.25; P = 0.01). Subgroup analysis showed that vitamin D supplementation was not associated with a mortality benefit in patients receiving vitamin D pre or post COVID-19 diagnosis.

Zinc

Five studies, including 738 patients, compared zinc intake with SOC (447 in zinc and 291 in SOC). Zinc supplementation was not associated with a significant reduction of mortality (RR 0.79, 95% CI 0.60–1.03, P = 0.08).

The authors concluded that individual micronutrient supplementations, including vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc, were not associated with a mortality benefit in COVID-19. Vitamin D may be associated with lower intubation rate and shorter LOS, but vitamin C did not reduce intubation rate or LOS. Further research is needed to validate our findings.

Holland & Barrett (H&B), the UK’s largest store for supplements and wellbeing products, is under pressure over its links to oligarch Mikhail Fridman. The private equity firm ‘LetterOne’, founded by Fridman, holds a major stake in H&B. On Twitter, people thus urged us to buy our supplements elsewhere. One customer tweeted: ‘Please boycott Holland & Barrett as it is owned by a Russian oligarch with links to Putin.’

Fridman who owns Athlone House, a sprawling £65million mansion in Highgate, North London, was sanctioned by the European Union. His assets were frozen and he is banned from traveling. Consequently, he spoke out against the fighting in Ukraine but refused to denounce Putin. He has since stepped down from the board of LetterOne.

Holland & Barrett itself is unlikely to face sanctions as the oligarch owns less than half the shares in the parent company LetterOne. Fridman convened a press conference last week, which was broadcast on television. However, the move might have backfired, as it alerted H&B shoppers to his connection with the stores.

Fridman was born in Ukraine and has an Israelian passport. He made most of his £11billion fortune from oil, gas, banking, and telecoms. He founded Alfa Bank in January 1991, which grew to become one of the largest private banks in Russia. In 2013, he set up LetterOne in London using £11billion raised from the sale of his stake in TNKBP to Kremlin-backed oil giant Rosneft, whose petrol is currently fuelling Russian tanks. Fridman and Aven (another oligarch) own just under 50 percent of LetterOne. The rest of the company is split between board members German Khan, Alexey Kuzmichev and Andrei Kosogov – who all left the board recently.

A spokesman for LetterOne said: ‘Holland and Barrett is a fantastic business. The business employs thousands of people and we will do everything to protect them.’ Holland & Barrett’s made a gross profit of £445million for the year to the end of September 2020. Fridman and Aven said the EU sanctions are spurious and unfounded and vowed to contest them.

____________________

PS

Quite apart from the oligarch co-ownership, I did ask myself some time ago: is H&B a recommendable shop? It is advertised on Facebook as follows:

Book your online wellness consultation today and speak to one of our qualified health & wellbeing advisors.
We are able to advise on a range of health topics including gut health, immunity, anxiety & more.
Several times during the last months, I went to my local H&B and asked specific questions about supplements. The overall impression I got was far from positive.

There are many fans of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) who think that vitamin C is the answer to COVID (and many other ailments). Here, for instance, is a press release from Damien Downing (we already encountered him in my last post):

Vitamin C and COVID-19 Coronavirus

by Damien Downing, MBBS, MRSB and Gert Schuitemaker, PhD

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Orthomolecular Medicine News Service, Feb 28, 2020

There is only one existing treatment for the new coronavirus: vitamin C.

Vitamin C supports your immune system. Vitamin C helps to kill the virus and reduces the symptoms of infection. It’s not a COVID “cure,” but nothing is. It might just save your life, though, and will definitely reduce the severity of the infection.

If someone tells you it’s not proven, consider two things:

    1. Nothing is proven to work against COVID-19, because it is a new virus.
    2. Vitamin C has worked against every single virus including influenzas, pneumonia, and even poliomyelitis.

What to do

If you do nothing else, start taking vitamin C right away; at least 3 grams a day, spread right across the day. That’s a 1,000 milligram capsule every 8 hours, or a level teaspoon of powder dissolved in a pint or so of water, drank all through the day.

If you’re smart and motivated, do all the other things recommended in our previous release Vitamin C Protects Against Coronavirus (http://orthomolecular.org/resources/omns/v16n04.shtml)

When and if you catch a bug that might be COVID-19, simply increase your vitamin C intake: a rounded teaspoon (that’s 4 to 5 grams) in water (which helps to keep you hydrated) every 3 or 4 hours. And keep on taking it.

Do you consult a doctor? Do you self-isolate? Yes and yes. Of course you do; that’s your duty to others.

Vitamin C and the other measures are what you do for yourself…

Damien Downing’s press release did not age all that well, I fear. The evidence to support his claims is not just flimsy, it is negative. Let me show you the most recent (October 2021) systematic review of the subject:

Background and aims: Vitamin C has been used as an anti-oxidant in various diseases including viral illnesses like coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Methods: Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCT) investigating the role of vitamin C supplementation in COVID-19 was carried out.

Results: Total 6 RCTs including n = 572 patients were included. Vitamin C treatment didn’t reduce mortality (RR 0.73, 95% CI 0.42 to 1.27; I2 = 0%; P = 0.27), ICU length of stay [SMD 0.29, 95% CI -0.05 to 0.63; I2 = 0%; P = 0.09), hospital length of stay (SMD -0.23, 95% CI -1.04 to 0.58; I2 = 92%; P = 0.57) and need for invasive mechanical ventilation (Risk Ratio 0.93, 95% CI 0.61 to 1.44; I2 = 0%; P = 0.76). Further sub-group analysis based on severity of illness (severe vs. non-severe), route of administration (IV vs. oral) and dose (high vs. low) failed to show any observable benefits.

Conclusion: No significant benefit noted with vitamin C administration in COVID-19. Well-designed RCTs with standardized control group needed on this aspect.

What does that tell us?

I think it suggests three things:

  • Damien Downing might be suffering from proctophasia,
  • we would be ill-advised to follow the advice of such pseudo-experts,
  • vitamin C is not the solution to COVID-19 infections.

‘Survive Cancer’ is a UK charity that promotes and researches orthomolecular medicine in the treatment of cancer, septic shock, mental health, and other illnesses. They claim to provide information about research and trials and a multi-pronged treatment approach for sufferers of cancer. Specifically for cancer, they recommend the following ‘top ten‘ so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs):

  • Gerson
  • Vitamin C therapy
  • Anti-angiogenic therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Photodynamic-/Photo-therapy
  • Melatonin
  • Bisphosphonates (for bone cancer)
  • Coley’s toxins
  • Salvestrols
  • Pain management

Interesting?

Yes, because it is misleading to the extreme. Here, for example, is what they say about an old favorite of mine (and of Prince Charles):

Gerson Therapy

Max Gerson was a German doctor who in the early twentieth century devised an anti-cancer diet and regime based on radically altering the sodium/potassium ratio in the body for the better, thus allowing optimal cellular functions, and nutrition, coupled with intensive detoxification through the use of coffee enemas.

Coffee enemas (see Detox, in First Steps, 5 Rs of Cancer Survival,) are a scientifically established, and medically accepted, way of stimulating the production of glutathione-s-transferases, a major liver detoxifying enzyme family. The diet is vegetarian, low in protein, with fresh organic fruit and vegetable juices daily, and certain specified supplements, such as potassium, niacin and vitamin C. At the end of his life Gerson testified before Congress with the details of 50 cases he had cured. His daughter, Charlotte, has continued Gerson’s work in the U.S. However, she has not made an attempt to integrate modern nutritional state-of-the-art knowledge into the therapy. This is being done by Gar Hildebrand. A retrospective study showed that the Gerson therapy is much more effective than chemotherapy for ovarian cancer and melanoma, both particularly aggressive forms of cancer. Gerson himself had notable successes with various kinds of brain tumour, even after some neurological damage had occurred. Orthomolecular Oncology suggests combining Immunopower with Gerson as an update. We can also cite a remarkable case of a 11 year remission in Multiple Myeloma, another fast-moving, relentless cancer without conventional cure, otherwise conventionally untreated, achieved through a combination of Gerson and modern orthomolecular approaches. Gerson is a powerful, comprehensive therapy, still capable of producing cures, even in its unmodulated form. However, it requires great discipline, time, and extra assistance. Read Gerson’s book and/or contact the Gerson Institute for further details.

One does not need to be a genius to predict that cancer patients following this sort of advice, will significantly shorten their lives, diminish their quality of life and empty their bank account. One does, however, need to be a genius to predict when the UK charity commission is finally going to do something about the many UK charities that prey on vulnerable cancer patients.

PS

I almost forgot: the patrons of this charity are:

A second look at old research suggested that the recommended dose for vitamin C is far too low. Here is the abstract of the recently published  paper:

A double-blind controlled trial initiated in 1944 has led to the common narrative that a 10-mg daily vitamin C intake is adequate to prevent and treat impaired wound healing, and by inference, other collagen-related diseases such as heart disease or stroke. The WHO relies on this narrative to set the recommended nutrient intake for vitamin C. This narrative, however, is based on what is known as the eyeball method of data assessment. The 1944 trial published individual participant data on scar strength providing an opportunity to statistically probe the validity of the 10-mg narrative, something which has not yet been done. The findings show that a vitamin C intake that averages to 10 mg/d over a mean follow-up of 11.5 mo was associated with a 42% weakened scar strength when compared with 80 mg vitamin C intake/d (P < 0.001). The observed dose-response curve between scar strength and vitamin C intake suggests that the daily vitamin C intake needed to prevent collagen-related pathologies is in the range recommended by the National Academy of Medicine and the European Food Safety Authority (75 to 110 mg/d), not the WHO recommendation (45 mg/d). The findings also show that a vitamin C intake that averages to 65 mg/d over a mean follow-up of 6.5 mo failed to restore the normal wound-healing capacity of vitamin C-depleted tissues; such tissues had a 49% weaker scar strength when compared with nondepleted tissues (P < 0.05). Thus, average daily vitamin C intakes ∼50% higher than the WHO recommends may fail to treat existing collagen-related pathologies. It is concluded that the prior lack of statistical analyses of a landmark trial may have led to a misleading narrative on the vitamin C needs for the prevention and treatment of collagen-related pathologies.

The lead author of the recent re-analysis, Professor Philippe Hujoel from the Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Washington, Seattle, said: “The vitamin C experiment is a shocking study. They depleted people’s vitamin C levels long-term and created life-threatening emergencies. It would never fly now. The findings of the re-analyses of the Sorby data suggest that the WHO’s recommendation is too low to prevent weak scar strength. Robust parametric analyses of the trial data reveal that an average daily vitamin C intake of 95mg is required to prevent weak scar strength for 97.5 percent of the population. Such a vitamin C intake is more than double the daily 45mg vitamin C intake recommended by the WHO but is consistent with the writing panels for the National Academy of Medicine and (other) countries.”

The original research of 1944 was headed by the British-German biologist and Nobel-prize winner Sir Hans Adolf Krebs. At the time, researchers conducted an experiment that controlled and monitored vitamin C consumption of just 20 volunteers. They were each given varying amounts of vitamin C,  which helps the body to produce collagen – and given wounds to observe how quickly their scar tissue healed. The research aimed to ascertain how much vitamin C navy members living off rations is required in order to prevent them from developing scurvy, rather than how much is needed to boost health overall.

Prof Hujoel concluded that: “The failure to reevaluate the data of a landmark trial with novel statistical methods as they became available may have led to a misleading narrative on the vitamin C needs for the prevention and treatment of collagen-related pathologies.”

In the UK, a new post-Brexit regulatory framework is being proposed for food supplements by the government. The nutraceutical sector is estimated to be worth £275bn globally and £4bn in the UK.  A new report claims that “science is starting to point the way to a new sector of nutritional products with increasingly explicable and/or verifiable medicinal benefits, which needs to be reflected in our regulatory framework.” Tory MP George Freeman, one of the authors of the report, was quoted saying:

“We are living through an extraordinary period of technological change – not just in life science but in host of sectors: from AI to robotics to agri-tech, nutraceuticals, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, biofuels, satellites and fusion energy. The UK is indeed a ‘science superpower’. But we have traditionally been woeful at commercialising here in the UK. There are many reasons. But, in recent years, the EU’s increasingly slow, bureaucratic and ‘precautionary’ approach – copied in Whitehall – has made the EU and the UK an increasingly poor place to commercialise new technology.”

If a product like a food or a herbal remedy makes ‘medicinal’ claims, it is currently regulated by the MHRA. If a product only makes general ‘health’ claims, it is regulated by the Department of Health and Social Care in England, by the FSA in Wales and Northern Ireland, and by Food Standards Scotland in Scotland. This ‘patchwork of regulators’ is bound to change as it is deemed to create additional costs and uncertainty for businesses who would like to see the relevant functions brought together in a central regulatory body and a clearer UK landscape.

In response to the task force’s report, PM Boris Johnson stated that bold and ambitious ideas such as these are needed to encourage growth and innovation:

“The Government, through our Better Regulation Committee, is already hard at work on reform of the UK’s regulatory framework. Your bold proposals provide a valuable template for this, illustrating the sheer level of ambitious thinking needed to usher in a new golden age of growth and innovation right across the UK. So we will give your report the detailed consideration it deserves, consult widely across industry and civil society, and publish a response as soon as is practicable.”

Am I the only one who feels more than a little uneasy about all this? I honestly do not see much new science that, according to the report, points to ‘verifiable medicinal benefits’ of food supplements or nutraceuticals. What the report does however point to, I fear, is that the UK government is about to deregulate quackery with a view to making some entrepreneurs wealthy snake oil salesmen at the cost of public health and wealth.

I hope I am mistaken.

Due to polypharmacy and the rising popularity of so-called alternative medicines (SCAM), oncology patients are particularly at risk of drug-drug interactions (DDI) or herb-drug interactions (HDI). The aims of this study were to assess DDI and HDI in outpatients taking oral anticancer drugs.

All prescribed and non-prescribed medications, including SCAMs, were prospectively collected by hospital pharmacists during a structured interview with the patient. DDI and HDI were analyzed using four interaction software programs: Thériaque®, Drugs.com®, Hédrine, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) database. All detected interactions were characterized by severity, risk, and action mechanism. The need for pharmaceutical intervention to modify drug use was determined on a case-by-case basis.

A total of 294 patients were included, with a mean age of 67 years [55-79]. The median number of chronic drugs per patient was 8 [1-29] and 55% of patients used at least one SCAM. At least 1 interaction was found for 267 patients (90.8%): 263 (89.4%) with DDI, 68 (23.1%) with HDI, and 64 (21.7%) with both DDI and HDI. Only 13% of the DDI were found in Thériaque® and Drugs.com® databases, and 125 (2.5%) were reported with a similar level of risk on both databases. 104 HDI were identified with only 9.5% of the interactions found in both databases. 103 pharmaceutical interventions were performed, involving 61 patients (20.7%).

The authors concluded that potentially clinically relevant drug interactions were frequently identified in this study, showing that several databases and structured screening are required to detect more interactions and optimize medication safety.

These data imply that DDIs are more frequent than HDIs. This does, however, not tell us which are more important. One crucial difference between DDIs and HDIs is that the former are usually known to the oncology team who should thus be able to prevent them or deal with them appropriately; in contrast, HDIs are often not known to the oncology team because many patients fail to disclose the fact that they take herbal remedies. Some forget, some do not think of herbals as medicine, others may be worried about their physician’s reaction.

It follows that firstly, conventional healthcare practitioners should always ask about the usage of herbal remedies, and secondly, they need to be informed about which herbal remedy might interact with which drug. The first can easily be implemented into routine history-taking; the second is more problematic, not least because our knowledge about HDIs is still woefully incomplete. In view of this, it might often be wise to tell patients to stop taking herbal remedies while they are on prescription drugs.

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