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TalkingNutrition

Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals

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Trying to Differentiate Between Scientific Process and Nutrition Guidance

By Michael McBurney

Today’s blog is on interpreting science. It is an important topic because of our increasing dependence upon our ‘science intelligence (IQ)’ . The creation of the internet and mobile devices have given access to information and transparency unlike that experienced by any other generation. With access we can bypass experts, i.e. gatekeepers, who filtered information for us - Travel agencies. Professionals who distilled and summarized scientific evidence via a few national evening news channels or weekly health columns in print media. These are not needed because we can search the internet for airfares, insurance vendors, and more. We can verify our physician’s treatment, including prescription choice, online.  Globalization is increasing competition, enhancing productivity and driving consolidation in all industries. As Ivan Oransky (@ivanoransky), Executive Director of Reuters Health shared at the University of Birmingham, fewer reporters are doing more stories, broadcasts, and blog posts. More content is being produced for bigger audiences by fewer corporations.  By looking online, the options become clear: 1) DIY (do it yourself), 2) use a small, niche service, or 3) choose a mega-brand.

This new communication style is based on more conversations and greater sharing online. In fact, social media transcends geographical constraints and allows for real-time connectivity around the world – through blogs (TalkingNutrition.dsm.com), facebook (TalkingNutritionDSM), twitter (@DSMNutrition), and many other platforms. Tools exist to share opinions, pictures, information and give voice to almost everyone.

The scientific process is based on conjecture, testing of hypotheses, and debate with regard the interpretation of experiments/research.  Increasingly scientists are using social media for scientific discussions, e.g. this one captured via Storify.  In the past, scientific discussions happened almost exclusively in person (offices, labs, telephones, and among peers at professional conferences) or in printed form (peer-reviewed papers and letters to the Editor). Today, anyone can participate or follow using social media.

As consumers, we seek simplicity. Not everyone wants to be following scientists in their pursuit of evidence. People want guidance or solutions. Most probably don’t want to be drawn into a debate about methodological issues. We want answers to our questions.  Which car is safer? Which insurance plan is best for me? But headlines, especially frightening ones, sell (or attract readers to click). The situation isn’t any different for nutrition or health. is our nutrition information source to be trusted? Is it reliable? But what if I am unable to discern if the author is commenting on the scientific process or relaying nutrition advice? Which article should guide my choices? Researchers Question Vitamin D’s Link to Diabetes or this article Research Shows Vitamin D may Prevent Diabetes?

The answer regarding vitamin D and diabetes isn’t black and white. Scientists have evidence to hypothesize that a relationship exists between vitamin D and diabetes. The NIH has determined that the quality of the evidence and future health care costs associated with diabetes are sufficient to invest in a randomized clinical trial (RCT) to determine IF maintaining optimal vitamin D levels with dietary supplementation may prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. And to bring this blog full circle, the Storify conversation is a scientist-to-scientist discussion of the appropriateness of the proposed RCT experimental design for a nutrient (vitamin D) where every participant will have some baseline value. This is a scientifically relevant conversation because a person with an optimal vitamin D status is unlikely to benefit from further increases in vitamin D intake.  Measuring the impact of nutrient supplementation on disease outcomes is difficult.  As discussed previously, Oct 18, 2011 and May 23, 2013, nutrient relationships on health cannot be studied in randomized controlled trials (RCTs) like drugs.

The fact is that vitamin D is essential for health. In 2011, the Institute of Medicine published new Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. However, the IOM also identified research gaps (Chapter 9). With social media, everyone can expect more exposure to scientists debating questions to be researched and strategies (research design, methods, tools, etc.) to be used.  It will require more ‘scientific intelligence’ to make sense of the cacophony of information. Welcome to a new world order.


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