Scientific evidence of popular supplements visualized

I am not a proponent of many supplements; the fact is that human trials with adequate subject numbers is lacking in most cases.  Too often supplements are justified with in vitro, animal, and observational evidence which then fail when they enter interventional trials.  It is difficult to explain this to lay people effectively, who prefer generalized, simple advice.

So I am excited to see that the latest data visualization from InformationIsBeautiful is on the scientific evidence on a number of supplements from only randomized, placebo-controlled human studies.  An interactive chart is available here, or a static image is below:

According to the website, the researchers looked at over 1500 abstracts on pubmed.org and cochrane.org for their data, then put all of the information into a Google Spreadsheet here, where all of the sources are available.  The bubbles are created from data on the spreadsheet, so changes are easy to make.  Several have been already based on comments on the site.

Clearly many of these are very debatable, and just examining abstracts isn’t very reliable.  Dose, context, and other study design features are also difficult to consider in a visual form like this without over-cluttering.  But I think it is a great start, and it gives people a quick and simple guide, better the majority of supplement sources on the web.

  • http://magnesiumrichfoods.com Beanie

    Wow, thanks. I'll have to spend some time looking at this. As you said, many of these are debateable. I am on the fence about the efficacy of most supplements, and doubt many of the claims, largely because so many of the studies are flawed. For example, Fruit A and Bean B make people happier, they both contain Vitamin X, therefore vitamin X makes people happier. But then…If someone studies Vitamin X by itself, they often find that it doesn't confer the benefits given by Fruit A and Bean B. Clearly, there's much more going on than we know.The same with vitamins that appear to clash with each other. I think it's just not as simple as that. Science so far only sees a tiny part of a very large picture, like looking at the stars by peering through a straw. Yet, we still keep looking, because it's the best we have so far. Still, there is no reason to favor vitamins to the exclusion of simply eating properly.

  • http://magnesiumrichfoods.com Beanie

    Wow, thanks. I'll have to spend some time looking at this. As you said, many of these are debateable. I am on the fence about the efficacy of most supplements, and doubt many of the claims, largely because so many of the studies are flawed. For example, Fruit A and Bean B make people happier, they both contain Vitamin X, therefore vitamin X makes people happier. But then…If someone studies Vitamin X by itself, they often find that it doesn't confer the benefits given by Fruit A and Bean B. Clearly, there's much more going on than we know.The same with vitamins that appear to clash with each other. I think it's just not as simple as that. Science so far only sees a tiny part of a very large picture, like looking at the stars by peering through a straw. Yet, we still keep looking, because it's the best we have so far. Still, there is no reason to favor vitamins to the exclusion of simply eating properly.

  • inception42

    Like you said, dose and context are very important factors which could easily make the current assumptions rather unreliable. I saw a similar chart for dianabol on a website, but like everything else, the benefits received depend very much on the context, such as level sf exercise and a strong diet.