SnakeOil? Scientific evidence for health supplements

By | February 26, 2010

SnakeOil Scientific evidence for health supplements

A generative data-visualisation of all the scientific evidence for popular health supplements by David McCandless and Andy Perkins.

I’m a bit of a health nut. Keeping fit. Streamlining my diet. I plan to live to the age of 150 in fact. But I get frustrated by constant, conflicting reports and studies about health supplements.

Is Vitamin C worth taking or not? Does Echinacea kill colds? Am I missing out not drinking litres of Goji juice, wheatgrass extract and flaxseed oil every day?

In an effort to give myself a quick reference guide, I dove into the scientific evidence and created a visualization for my book. And then worked with the awesome Andy Perkins on a further interactive, generative “living image”.

Play with interactive version | See the still image

This visualisation generates itself from this Google Doc. So when new research comes out, we can quickly update the data and regenerate the image. (How cool is that??) Hopefully then this should be a useful web resources for years to come.

… This image is a “balloon race”. The higher a bubble, the greater the evidence for its effectiveness. But the supplements are only effective for the conditions listed inside the bubble.

You might also see multiple bubbles for certain supps. These is because some supps affect a range of conditions, but the evidence quality varies from condition to condition. For example, there’s strong evidence that Green Tea is good for cholesterol levels. But evidence for its anti-cancer effects is conflicting. In these cases, we give a supp another bubble.

The evidence

We only considered large, human, randomized placebo-controlled trials in our data scrape – wherever possible. No animal trials. No cell studies. Many of the health claims made by the $23 billion supplements industry are based on non-human trials. We wanted to cut through that. …

via SnakeOil? Scientific evidence for health supplements | Information Is Beautiful. ( source: PubMed, Cochrane )

Perhaps I should add some brewer’s yeast to my morning shake and eat more Shitake mushrooms since beta-glucan gets such high marks as an anti-viral and anti-cancer agent in the above data.

Leave a Reply