Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, Diet Coke & Health. Part I.

14 03 2010

At Medical and Technology of Joseph Kim, the upcoming Grand Rounds host, I saw the blog post “Need your help on Facebook to get Diet Coke to Donate $50,000 to the Foundation for NIH”.

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute has started a national campaign in the US, The Heart Truth®. They issued a challenge in support of heart health, raising awareness on the fact that  heart disease is the #1 killer of women, to identify risk factors and take action to lower them. Diet Coke is one of their corporate-partners, helping to spread the word through visibility on 6.7 billion packages of Diet Coke featuring The Heart Truth and Red Dress symbol. It has also started a Facebook cause: Diet Coke will donate $0.50 for every person that joins the cause and $1.00 for every person that donates $1, for a total donation of up to $50,000!

O.k. Donation Fine, NIH fine, but Coca Cola as a main sponsor to raise awareness against heart disease?? Its almost feels like a tobacco company raising awareness against lung cancer. It is as odd as McDonalds, Lego & Mars preaching online advertising awareness to kids...

You could object that any money to raise awareness is  a welcome bonus and that diet coke, unlike normal coke, doesn’t contain any calories. But then you could ask whether diet coke is really healthy… Plus Coca Cola does sell a lot of beverages with loads of sugar, with a possible adverse effect on health, including cardiovascular disease (see below). It looks a lot like hypocrisy to me, meant only to improve the BRAND.

Well, I was to write about sweetened beverages anyway, since I came across several interesting news items the last weeks.

Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Have Major Effects on Diabetes and Cardiovascular Health

During the joint EPI/NPAM Conference (Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention &- Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism), Mar 2-5, 2010 (link), Litsa Lambrakos presented a posterSugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption and the Attributable Burden to Diabetes and Coronary Heart Disease” that was covered in a press release and in the media (Elsevier Global Medical News; All Headline News)

Based on data from several large observational studies demonstrating a link between higher rates of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) consumption and subsequent risk of incident diabetes, Lambrakos and colleagues assumed that daily consumption of SSBs is associated with an increased risk of incident diabetes (RR 1.32 for those with daily consumption compared with adults consuming less than one sugar-sweetened beverage per month).  Next they estimated that the increased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (including sugar-sweetened soda, sport and fruit drinks) between 1990 and 2000 contributed to 130,000 new cases of diabetes, 14,000 new cases of coronary heart disease (CHD), and 50,000 additional life-years burdened by coronary heart disease over the past decade. They derived these data from the 1990-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) on consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, combined  with the CHD Policy Model, a computer simulation of heart disease in U. S. adults aged 35-84 years.

Through the model, the researchers also estimated that the additional disease caused by the drinks has increased coronary heart disease healthcare costs by 300-550 million U.S. dollars between 2000-2010. This is probably an underestimation, because it does not account for the increased costs associated with the treatment and care of patients with diabetes alone.

How does this ($300.000.000-$550.000.000) compare to the $50,000 (max) that Coca Cola is willing to contribute to The Heart Truth?

Admitted, the comparison is not entirely fair. There are far more soft drinks than the sodas from Coca Cola. More importantly, the reliability of the  figures is highly dependent on the accuracy of the assumptions. Furthermore it is hard to review a study that is not yet published.

Other studies on possible harm of SSB consumption. 1. Effects on BMI, overweight & obesity.

To get an idea about the evidence on the ‘harm’ of SSB I did a quick search in PubMed (see PubMed tips).

First I searched for secondary (aggregated) sources.

((Dietary Sucrose AND beverages) OR soft drink* OR sugar-sweetened beverag* OR soda*[tiab]) AND “systematic”[Filter]

This yielded 27 hits.

Five Publications centered on the effect of beverages on weight, obesity or BMI.

The effect on overweight seems the most obvious side-effect of SSB’s. First the increase in obesity over time has been paralleled by an increase in soft drink consumption. Second the daily sweetener consumption in the United States increased by 83 kcal per person, of which 54 kcal/d  from soda. If these calories are added to the normal diet without reducing intake from other sources, 1 soda/d could lead to a weight gain of 6.75 kg in 1 year. [refs in 2]

Still the evidence is not that clear.

Malik [2], and an almost overlapping systematic review [3] conclude that large cross-sectional studies, well-powered prospective cohort studies with long follow-up, and short-term experimental studies (including 2 RCT’s), show a positive association between greater intakes of SSBs and weight gain and obesity in both children and adults and yield sufficient evidence for public health strategies to discourage consumption of sugary drinks as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Two later reviews [4,5] point out that Malik et al. had erroneously concluded that the evidence was ‘strong’, because “several studies were reported as positive when only a selected sub-group had a positive result, or classified as ‘positive non-significant’ where coefficients are near zero and P values in excess of 0·2. Furthermore, the results of two studies were confounded by the inclusion of diet soft drinks.”[4]

On the contrary, Forshee et al [4] conclude that the  association between SSB consumption and BMI was near zero. Interestingly, the funnel plot analysis was consistent with publication bias against studies that do not report statistically significant findings!

Gibson [5] concludes that that the effect of SSB on body weight is small except in susceptible individuals or at high levels of intake. She also points out that the totality of evidence is dominated by American studies (including the positive NHANES study), “that may be less applicable to the European context where consumption is substantially lower and composition or formulation may differ (high-fructose corn syrup v. sucrose, proportion of diet v. non-diet, etc).”
Indeed in a systematic review primarily including European studies [6], overweight was not associated with the intake of soft drinks, but with lower physical activity and more tv watching time.

Thus the effect of SSB (alone) on BMI and overweight is inconclusive, based on the current body of evidence.

It is not excluded though that high intake of SSB alone or regular consumption of SSB in combination with other unhealthy lifestyle factors (unsaturated fat, lower physical activity) do contribute to obesity.

Since lack of sleep is also unhealthy (and possibly obesogen), I will leave it here.

Next time I will discuss any cardiovascular or other harmful effects of sugar sweetened beverages ànd diet sodas.

Meanwhile enjoy the sugar and coca cola video below.

Whatever the evidence, daily consumption of SSB, with many calories and no nutritional value, doesn’t seem overtly healthy to me. I won’t allow my kids to drink soda as a habit.

ResearchBlogging.org

References

  1. Litsa K Lambrakos, Pamela Coxson, Lee Goldman, Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo (2010). Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption and the Attributable Burden to Diabetes and Coronary Heart Disease, poster  365, Joint Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention &- Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism – Conference Mar 2-5, 2010.
  2. Malik VS, Schulze MB, & Hu FB (2006). Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain: a systematic review. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 84 (2), 274-88 PMID: 16895873
  3. Wolff E, & Dansinger ML (2008). Soft drinks and weight gain: how strong is the link? Medscape journal of medicine, 10 (8) PMID: 18924641
  4. Forshee RA, Anderson PA, & Storey ML (2008). Sugar-sweetened beverages and body mass index in children and adolescents: a meta-analysis. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 87 (6), 1662-71 PMID: 18541554
  5. Gibson S (2008). Sugar-sweetened soft drinks and obesity: a systematic review of the evidence from observational studies and interventions. Nutrition research reviews, 21 (2), 134-47 PMID: 19087367
  6. Janssen I, Katzmarzyk PT, Boyce WF, Vereecken C, Mulvihill C, Roberts C, Currie C, Pickett W, & Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children Obesity Working Group (2005). Comparison of overweight and obesity prevalence in school-aged youth from 34 countries and their relationships with physical activity and dietary patterns. Obesity reviews : an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 6 (2), 123-32 PMID: 15836463

Photo Credits

  1. Diet Coke: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Diet_Coke_can_US_1982.jpg
  2. Sugar in Coca Cola: http://www.sugarstacks.com/
They used data from the 1990-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) on consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. She combined that with the Coronary Heart Disease Policy Model, a computer simulation of heart disease in U. S. adults aged 35-84 years.




Some Sugars Worse than Others? The Bittersweet Fructose/Glucose Debate.

27 04 2009

132244825_dbf0e21d9fExcessive consumption of sugar has been associated with increased incidences of type 2 diabetes, formerly called adult-onset diabetes, obesity and tooth decay.

There are many sugars around. Natural sugars and refined sugars. The refined table sugar and sugar cubes would be called “sucrose” by a chemist. Sucrose consists of two simple sugars (monosaccharides): 1 fructose and 1 glucose molecule (5).

542compareglufrucGlucose is a sugar that occurs in the blood. Because of its name, fructose (Latin= fructus, fruit) is often regarded as more “natural” and therefore as a healthier alternative to glucose. However, unlike glucose, that can be metabolized anywhere in the body, fructose has to be metabolized by the liver. Here, fructose is easily converted to fat.

There is an intensive debate whether glucose or fructose is the real culprit for overweight and related health problems. This discussion is  relevant, because of the shift towards use of (cheaper) high fructose corn syrup from sucrose (especially in the US).

Last week a journal article was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, written by Stanhope et al (1) that was widely covered in the media. Headlines were for instance “Fructose slechter dan glucose” (NRC, Dutch, 8), “Fructose is the bad sugar, not glucose” (Indo-Asian News Service, i.e. 9) “Fructose-Sweetened Beverages Linked to Heart Risks” (NY-times, 10).

Is this study a breakthrough? What has been done?

This study was a double-blinded parallel arm study that assessed the relative effects of fructose- versus glucose – sweetened beverages in 32 matched, obese individuals, 40 to 72 years old (see 1).

The study consisted of 3 phases:

  1. The first 2 weeks the volunteers lived in a clinical research center, consuming an energy- balanced high complex carbohydrate diet. This phase established baseline measurements for the study.
  2. An 8-week outpatient intervention period during which subjects consumed either fructose- or glucose-sweetened beverages providing 25% of daily energy requirements along with their usual ad libitum diet. The aim was to imitate the ‘normal situation’, where sugar-sweetened beverages are typically consumed as part a normal energy-rich diet.
  3. A 2-week inpatient intervention period during which subjects consumed fructose- or glucose-sweetened beverages providing 25% of daily energy requirements with an energy-balanced diet.

Results

Both study groups put on the same amount of weight, but people drinking fructose showed an increase in intra-abdominal fat, an increased hepatic de-novo (new) synthesis of lipids, higher triglyceride, LDL and oxidized LDL (“bad fats”), and higher fasting plasma glucose and insulin levels, but lowered insulin sensitivity. All these parameters are associated with a higher risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Positive Aspects of the study

  • Intervention directly comparing fructose and glucose
  • Human study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Many variables measured, related to diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Critique:

  • The first thing that came to my mind was: is it ethical to expose obese man and woman (or any healthy volunteer) to 10 weeks of a very unhealthy diet: extra glucose or fructose beverages making up 25% of the calorie intake?
  • Because the subjects were obese, the results may not directly apply to lean persons.
  • Minor point: It is a rather difficult to read paper, with a plethora of data. I wonder why SEM are given instead of SD and why the statistical significance is only determined versus baseline.
  • Only surrogate markers were tested.
  • Most important: the doses of sugars used are excessive, not reflecting a real-life diet.
  • Nor can results with pure fructose be directly translated to health effects of high-fructose corn syrup, which is not pure fructose, but still contains 45% glucose.
  • In addition the abstract and introduction suggests that it is the first human intervention study, which it isn’t.

Quite coincidentally the Journal of Nutrition published a supplement about “the State of the Science on Dietary Sweeteners Containing Fructose” [2-4]. In his paper Geoffrey Livesey [2] stresses the pitfalls of studies on Fructose, not only of animal and epidemiological studies, but also of intervention studies using excessive high fructose (excessive is > 400 kcal/day = >20% of energy intake), that may bear little relevance to the normal situation.

Many hypotheses of disease risk and prevention depend on inferences about the metabolic effects of fructose; however, there is inadequate attention to dose dependency. Fructose is proving to have bidirectional effects. At moderate or high doses, an effect on any one marker may be absent or even the opposite of that observed at very high or excessive doses; examples include fasting plasma triglyceride, insulin sensitivity (..) Among markers, changes can be beneficial for some (..) but adverse for others (e.g., plasma triglycerides at very high or excessive fructose intake). Evidence on body weight indicates no effect of moderate to high fructose intakes, but information is scarce for high or excessive intakes. The overall balance of such beneficial and adverse effects of fructose is difficult to assess but has important implications for the strength and direction of hypotheses about public health, the relevance of some animal studies, and the interpretation of both interventional and epidemiological studies.

3198244845_76f72e7966

References:

  1. ResearchBlogging.orgStanhope, K., Schwarz, J., Keim, N., Griffen, S., Bremer, A., Graham, J., Hatcher, B., Cox, C., Dyachenko, A., Zhang, W., McGahan, J., Seibert, A., Krauss, R., Chiu, S., Schaefer, E., Ai, M., Otokozawa, S., Nakajima, K., Nakano, T., Beysen, C., Hellerstein, M., Berglund, L., & Havel, P. (2009). Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans Journal of Clinical Investigation DOI: 10.1172/JCI37385
  2. Livesey, G. (2009). Fructose Ingestion: Dose-Dependent Responses in Health Research Journal of Nutrition DOI: 10.3945/jn.108.097949
  3. White, J. (2009). Misconceptions about High-Fructose Corn Syrup: Is It Uniquely Responsible for Obesity, Reactive Dicarbonyl Compounds, and Advanced Glycation Endproducts? Journal of Nutrition DOI: 10.3945/jn.108.097998
  4. Jones, J. (2009). Dietary Sweeteners Containing Fructose: Overview of a Workshop on the State of the Science Journal of Nutrition DOI: 10.3945/jn.108.097972
  5. Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugar
  6. Essentially Healthy Food: Sugar, a bittersweet story part 2
  7. http://www.askmen.com/sports/foodcourt_250/257_health-benefits-of-sugar.html
  8. NRC, April 21, 2009. http://www.nrc.nl/wetenschap/article2219138.ece/Fructose_slechter_dan_glucose
  9. The Idian http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/sci-tech/fructose-is-the-bad-sugar-not-glucose_100184408.html
  10. NY Times,  April 2, 2009: Fructose-Sweetened Beverages Linked to Heart Risks

Photo Credits





MnSOD, Carotenoids & Prostate Cancer – “You are what you eat” depends on who you are.

22 02 2009

ResearchBlogging.orgWhen you type Cancer Food Prevention in Google you get about 9 million hits, many of them dotcom sites telling you which nutrients, pills or extracts you should take to prevent cancer. Much of this information is unreliable at least.

Although it is true that numerous observational studies (cohort and case-control) do indicate a relationship between diet and cancer incidence, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact nutrients that may be responsible for a beneficial effect. Furthermore, as explained in “The Best Study Design for Dummies” observational studies provide weaker empirical evidence than RCT’s (randomized controlled trials).

For prostate cancer observational (and preclinical) data indicate that diets high in cruciferous vegetables, soy lecithins and other phytoestrogens, vitamins E and C, lycopene, Selenium, green tea (to name a few) are associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer [1].

However, recent randomized trials did not confirm positive effects of vitamin E and C and Selenium (see previous post on the negative SELECT and the PHS II-trial) and data from the PLCO (Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, Ovarian) Trial [2] suggest that the benefit of lycopene (a powerful anti-oxidant that gives tomatoes their red color) is small and that beta-carotene, an antioxidant related to lycopene, even increases the risk for aggressive prostate cancer.

lycopene-tomato

There may be many reasons why these results discords with the many observational studies performed (3)

  • Earlier positive observational studies have less methodological rigor than (large) RCT’s. In controlled trials, the random assignment of subjects to the intervention eliminates the problems of dietary recall and controls the effects of confounding factors.
  • RCT’s test one or two nutrients in isolation and sometimes in high doses assuming that a single compound may reproduce the beneficial effects of the whole foods.
  • RCT’s are often not stratisfied, differences between individuals are often not taken into account.

That this may be important is shown in a recent study on the manganese superoxide dismutase (MnSOD) polymorfism, prostate cancer and lycopene (4)

The manganese superoxide dismutase (MnSOD) gene encodes an antioxidant enzyme (SOD2) that may protect cells from oxidative damage (which may play an important role in prostatic carcinogenesis). A polymorphism [valine (V) -> alanine (A)] of MnSOD has been recently associated with a higher risk of prostate cancer.

The present study performed by Mikhak et al was a nested case-control study in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS) with 612 incident prostate cancer cases and 612 matched controls.

The study not only investigates the role of the MnSOD gene Ala16Val polymorphism in prostate cancer risk, but also measures its interactions with baseline plasma carotenoid concentrations.

In line with several other studies (5), no overall association between MnSOD polymorphism and prostate cancer risk was found. However, a 3-fold [95% confidence interval: 1.37-7.02] increased risk of aggressive prostate cancer was observed among men with the Ala/Ala genotype in the presence of low long-term lycopene status (P-value, test for interaction = 0.02) as compared with men with the Ala/Val+Val/Val genotypes with low long-term lycopene status. In other words when the lycopene blood level is low, the Ala/Ala genotype confers a higher risk of aggressive prostate cancer compared with individuals with the other genotypes.

These results are consistent with findings from an earlier study (6) that reported when total antioxidant status is low, the MnSOD Ala/Ala genotype may be associated with an increased risk of aggressive prostate cancer. In contrast, men with the Val allele were much less sensitive for prediagnostic plasma levels of the anti-oxidants selenium, lycopene and {alpha}-tocopherol.

Thus reasoned the other way around: the anticancer effects of supplemented lycopene and other anti-oxidants may depend on the the MnSOD genotype and the levels of both endogenous and exogenous antioxidants. Similarly, a positive effect of {alpha}-tocopherol (vitamin E) observed in earlier trials appeared to be limited to smokers and/or people with low basal levels of vitamin E (see previous post).

SOURCES

  1. E-medicine/Medscape: prostate cancer and nutrition (2008) (free e-txt)
  2. Peters U, Leitzmann MF, Chatterjee N, Wang Y, Albanes D, Gelmann EP, Friesen MD, Riboli E, Hayes RB. Serum lycopene, other carotenoids, and prostate cancer risk: a nested case-control study in the prostate, lung, colorectal, and ovarian cancer screening trial. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2007 May;16(5):962-8. (free PDF)
  3. Byers T. What can randomized controlled trials tell us about nutrition and cancer prevention? CA Cancer J Clin. 1999 Nov-Dec;49(6):353-61. Review (free PDF)
  4. B. Mikhak, D. J. Hunter, D. Spiegelman, E. A. Platz, K. Wu, J. W. Erdman, E. Giovannucci (2008). Manganese superoxide dismutase (MnSOD) gene polymorphism, interactions with carotenoid levels and prostate cancer risk Carcinogenesis, 29 (12), 2335-2340 DOI: 10.1093/carcin/bgn212
  5. Bag A, Bag N. Target sequence polymorphism of human manganese superoxide dismutase gene and its association with cancer risk: a review.
    Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2008 Dec;17(12):3298-305. Review. (Abstract)
  6. Li H, Kantoff PW, Giovannucci E, Leitzmann MF, Gaziano JM, Stampfer MJ, Ma J. Manganese superoxide dismutase polymorphism, prediagnostic antioxidant status, and risk of clinical significant prostate cancer.Cancer Res. 2005 Mar 15;65(6):2498-504.

You may also want to read:

Photo Credits





The Best Study Design… For Dummies.

25 08 2008

When I had those tired looks again, my mother in law recommended coenzyme Q, which research had proven to have wondrous effects on tiredness. Indeed many sites and magazines advocate this natural energy producing nutrient which mobilizes your mitochondria for cellular energy! Another time she asked me if I thought komkommerslank (cucumber pills for slimming) would work to loose some extra weight. She took my NO for granted.

It is often difficult to explain people that not all research is equally good, and that outcomes are not always equally “significant” (both statistically and clinically). It is even more difficult to understand “levels of evidence” and why we should even care. Pharmaceutical Industries (especially the supplement-selling ones) take advantage of this ignorance and are very successful in selling their stories and pills.

If properly conducted, the Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) is the best study-design to examine the clinical efficacy of health interventions. An RCT is an experimental study where individuals who are similar at the beginning are randomly allocated to two or more treatment groups and the outcomes of the groups are compared after sufficient follow-up time. However an RCT may not always be feasible, because it may not be ethical or desirable to randomize people or to expose them to certain interventions.

Observational studies provide weaker empirical evidence, because the allocation of factors is not under control of the investigator, but “just happen” or are choosen (e.g. smoking). Of the observational studies, cohort studies provide stronger evidence than case control studies, because in cohort studies factors are measured before the outcome, whereas in case controls studies factors are measured after the outcome.

Most people find such a description of study types and levels of evidence too theoretical and not appealing.

Last year I was challenged to tell about how doctors search medical information (central theme = Google) for and here it comes…. “the Society of History and ICT”.

To explain the audience why it is important for clinicians to find ‘the best evidence’ and how methodological filters can be used to sift through the overwhelming amount of information in for instance PubMed, I had to introduce RCT’s and the levels of evidence. To explain it to them I used an example that stroke me when I first read about it.

I showed them the following slide :

And clarified: Beta-carotene is a vitamine in carrots and many other vegetables, but you can also buy it in pure form as pills. There is reason to believe that beta-carotene might help to prevent lung cancer in cigarette smokers. How do you think you can find out whether beta-carotene will have this effect?

  • Suppose you have two neighbors, both heavy smokers of the same age, both males. The neighbor who doesn’t eat much vegetables gets lung cancer, but the neighbor who eats a lot of vegetables and is fond of carrots doesn’t. Do you think this provides good evidence that beta-carotene prevents lung cancer?
    There is a laughter in the room, so they don’t believe in n=1 experiments/case reports. (still how many people don’t think smoking does not necessarily do any harm because “their chainsmoking father reached his nineties in good health”).
    I show them the following slide with the lowest box only.
  • O.k. What about this study? I’ve a group of lung cancer patients, who smoke(d) heavily. I ask them to fill in a questionnaire about their eating habits in the past and take a blood sample, and I do the same with a simlar group of smokers without cancer (controls). Analysis shows that smokers developing lung cancer eat much less beta-carotene containing vegetables and have lower bloodlevels of beta-carotene than the smokers not developing cancer. Does this mean that beta-carotene is preventing lung cancer?
    Humming in the audience, till one man says: “perhaps some people don’t remember exactly what they eat” and then several people object “that it is just an association” and “you do not yet know whether beta-carotene really causes this”. Right! I show the box patient-control studies.
  • Than consider this study design. I follow a large cohort of ‘healthy’ heavy smokers and look at their eating habits (including use of supplements) and take regular blood samples. After a long follow-up some heavy smokers develop lung cancer whereas others don’t. Now it turns out that the group that did not develop lung cancer had significantly more beta-carotene in their blood and eat larger amount of beta-carotene containing food. What do you think about that then?
    Now the room is a bit quiet, there is some hesitation. Then someone says: “well it is more convincing” and finally the chair says: “but it may still not be the carrots, but something else in their food or they may just have other healthy living habits (including eating carrots). Cohort-study appears on the slide (What a perfect audience!)
  • O.k. you’re not convinced that these study designs give conclusive evidence. How could we then establish that beta-carotene lowers the risk of lung cancer in heavy smokers? Suppose you really wanted to know, how do you set up such a study?
    Grinning. Someone says “by giving half of the smokers beta-carotene and the other half nothing”. “Or a placebo”, someone else says. Right! Randomized Controlled Trial is on top of the slide. And there is not much room left for another box, so we are there. I only add that the best way to do it is to do it double blinded.

Than I reveal that all this research has really been done. There have been numerous observational studies (case-control as well cohorts studies) showing a consistent negative correlation between the intake of beta-carotene and the development of lung cancer in heavy smokers. The same has been shown for vitamin E.

“Knowing that”, I asked the public: “Would you as a heavy smoker participate in a trial where you are randomly assigned to one of the following groups: 1. beta-carotene, 2. vitamin E, 3. both or 4. neither vitamin (placebo)?”

The recruitment fails. Some people say they don’t believe in supplements, others say that it would be far more effective if smokers quit smoking (laughter). Just 2 individuals said they would at least consider it. But they thought there was a snag in it and they were right. Such studies have been done, and did not give the expected positive results.
In the first large RCT (
appr. 30,000 male smokers!), the ATBC Cancer Prevention Study, beta-carotene rather increased the incidence of lung cancer with 18 percent and overall mortality with 8 percent (although harmful effects faded after men stopped taking the pills). Similar results were obtained in the CARET-study, but not in a 3rd RCT, the Physician’s Health Trial, the only difference being that the latter trial was performed both with smokers ànd non-smokers.
It is now generally thought that cigarette smoke causes beta-carotene to breakdown in detrimental products, a process that can be halted by other anti-oxidants (normally present in food). Whether vitamins act positively (anti-oxidant) or negatively (pro-oxidant) depends very much on the dose and the situation and on whether there is a shortage of such supplements or not.

I found that this way of explaining study designs to well-educated layman was very effective and fun!
The take-home message is that no matter how reproducible the observational studies seem to indicate a certain effect, better evidence is obtained by randomized control trials. It also shows that scientists should be very prudent to translate observational findings directly in a particular lifestyle advice.

On the other hand, I wonder whether all hypotheses have to be tested in a costly RCT (the costs for the ATCB trial were $46 million). Shouldn’t there be very very solid grounds to start a prevention study with dietary supplements in healthy individuals ? Aren’t their any dangers? Personally I think we should be very restrictive about these chemopreventive studies. Till now most chemopreventive studies have not met the high expectations, anyway.
And what about coenzyme-Q and komkommerslank? Besides that I do not expect the evidence to be convincing, tiredness can obviously be best combated by rest and I already eat enough cucumbers…. ;)
To be continued…

SOURCES:
Clinical Studies and designs:
several paper books; online e.g. GlossClinStudy on a vetenarian site
The ATCB study: The Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta Carotene Cancer Prevention Study Group. The effect of vitamin E and beta carotene on the incidence of lung cancer and other cancers in male smokers. N Engl J Med 1994;330:1029-35. See free full text here
Overview of ATBC and CARET study 2 overwiews at www.cancer.gov, one about the ATBCfollowup and one about the CARET-trial
Overview of other RCT’s with surprising outcomes: on wikipedia

—————————-

Toen ik er weer eens donkere kringen onder mijn ogen had, raadde mijn schoonmoeder me coenzym Q aan, waarvan ze net gelezen had dat het een wetenschappelijk bewezen effectieve vermindering van vermoeidheid geeft. Inderdaad bevelen veel webpagina’s en huis-aan-huis bladen deze “natuurlijke en energie-mobiliserende voedingstof die je mitochondrien aanzet tot cellulaire energie” aan. Een andere keer vroeg ze me of ik dacht dat je wat pondjes zou kunnen kwijtraken door komkommerslank. Ze nam met een stellig NEE genoegen.

Het is vaak heel moeilijk duidelijk te maken dat niet alle research even goed is en niet alle uitkomsten even significant (zowel statistisch als klinisch). Nog moeilijker is het om de “bewijsniveau’s (levels of evidence)” uit de doeken te doen of om uit te leggen waarom je uberhaupt zoiets zou willen weten. De pharmacie en zeker de supplement verkopende bedrijfjes varen wel bij de goedgelovigheid van de gemiddelde consument. Hun verhalen en pillen vinden gretig aftrek.

Een gerandomiseerde gecontroleerde trial (RCT) is, indien goed uitgevoerd, het ‘beste’ studietype om aan te tonen of een behandeling werkzaam of nuttig is. Een RCT is een experimentele studie waarbij de deelnemers, die bij start van de studie vergelijkbaar zijn, door het lot worden toegewezen aan een (bepaalde) interventie- of controlegroep en waarbij na een bepaalde tijd de uitkomsten in beide groepen worden vergeleken. Een RCT is echter niet altijd haalbaar of wenselijk, bijvoorbeeld omdat het niet ethisch is om mensen te randomiseren of om hen bloot te stellen aan bepaalde interventies.

Observationele studies zijn zwakker in bewijskracht, omdat de toewijzing van de factoren niet in handen liggen van de onderzoeker, maar van het lot (natuur, werkomstandigheden, eigen keuzes). Van de observationele studies hebben cohort studies een hogere bewijskracht dan case control studies, omdat de te onderzoeken factoren bij cohort studies worden bepaald vòòrdat de uitkomst bekend is, terwijl dit bij case control studies juist gebeurt nadat de uitkomst bekend is.

De meeste mensen vinden zo’n beschrijving van studietypes the theoretisch en nietszeggend. Het spreekt ze niet aan, omdat ze zich er niets bij voor kunnen stellen.

Afgelopen jaar werd ik uitgedaagd om te vertellen “hoe artsen medische informatie zoeken” (het centrale thema was Google en informatie) voor …en nou komt-ie.. “De Vereniging voor Geschiedenis en Informatica”.

Om het publiek uit te leggen waarom het belangrijk is dat klinici de beste evidence vinden en hoe zij met behulp van methodologische filters het kaf van het koren kunnen scheiden, moest ik hen eerst uitleggen wat RCT’s en bewijsniveau’s zijn. Ik legde hen dit uit aan de hand van een onderwerp dat mij na aan het hart ligt.

Ik toonde hen een dia met daarop de vraag: Voorkomt bètacaroteen longkanker?
En ik legde hen uit dat bètacaroteen een vitamine is die veel in worteltjes en bepaalde andere groente voorkomt, maar die je ook als pillen kan slikken. Er zijn aanwijzingen dat bètacaroteen longkanker bij rokers zou helpen voorkomen. Hoe denkt u dat u dit het best kunt aantonen?

  • Stel u heeft 2 buren, beiden kettingroker, man, en even oud. De buurman die weinig groente eet krijgt longkanker, maar de buurman die heel veel groente eet en gek is op worteltjes krijgt het niet. Kunnen we nu concluderen, dat bètacaroteen longkanker bij rokers voorkomt?
    Er wordt hartelijk gelachen, dus men gelooft hier niet in n=1 experimenten/case reports. (maar je moet ze maar de kost geven die denken dat roken geen kwaad kan omdat hun shaggies verslindende vader een taaie kerel was die nog tot op hoge leeftijd volop van het leven genoot).
    Ik toon hen een nieuwe slide met daarop het woord “casus”.
  • O.k. Wat vind u hiervan? Er is een groep longkankerpatienten, die veel gerookt heeft. Ik vraag of de patienten een vragenlijst willen invullen en neem wat bloed af. Datzelfde doe ik met een vergelijkbare groep rokers die géén kanker ontwikkeld heeft. Ik analyseer alles en wat blijkt? In de groep met longkanker zitten vooral rokers met een minder caroteenrijk voedingspatroon en minder caroteen in hun bloed. Betekent dit dat bètacaroteen longkanker voorkomt?
    Geroezemoes. Iemand zegt: “misschien kunnen sommige mensen zich helemaal niet zo goed herinneren wat ze vroeger precies hebben gegeten”. Anderen werpen tegen “dat het alleen maar een associatie is” en “dat je niet zeker weet of het echt alleen de betacaroteen is die dit effect geeft.” Heel goed! Op het scherm verschijnt “patient-controle onderzoek”.
  • Dan doe ik het anders. Ik volg een grote groep ‘gezonde’ zware rokers, ik volg hun eetgewoonten (inclusief het gebruik van supplementen) nauwgezet en neem regelmatig bloed af. Na lange tijd krijgen sommige rokers longkanker, maar andere niet. Nou blijkt wéér dat de groep die geen longkanker kreeg meer caroteenrijk voedsel at en meer betacaroteen in zijn bloed had. Wat denkt u hiervan?
    Het is een beetje stiller, je voelt de aarzeling, tot iemand zegt. “Nou, het overtuigt wel iets meer”. Een ander werpt tegen: “maar wie zegt dat het de worteltjes zijn, misschien is het wel iets anders in het eten of misschien is de levensstijl sowieso gezonder. Cohort-studie verschijnt op het scherm. Wat een perfect publiek, daar kan menig geneeskunde student nog een puntje aan zuigen.
  • Ik begrijp dat u niet geheel overtuigd bent van de bewijskracht van deze studies. Maar hoe zou u dan vaststellen dat bètacaroteen de kans op longkanker verlaagt bij rokers? Stel dat u het echt zou willen weten, hoe zet u de studie dan op?
    Gegrinnik. Iemand zegt: “Geef de helft van de rokers beta-caroteen en de andere helft niets”. “Of een placebo”. zegt een ander. Prima! Er verschijnt “Randomized Controlled Trial” boven aan de slide. Er is geen ruimte meer over, dus we zijn er. Ik vertel alleen nog iets over het belang van dubbelblind onderzoek.

Dan onthul ik dat dergelijke onderzoeken ook werkelijk gedaan zijn. Uit tal van observationele (case-control en cohort) studies is gebleken dat er een omgekeerde relatie bestaat tussen inname van bètacaroteen en ontwikkelen van longkanker bij rokers. Hetzelfde geldt voor vitamine E.

“Nu u dat weet”, vraag ik het publiek “Zou u dan als kettingroker deelnemen aan een studie waar u random toegewezen wordt aan een van de volgende behandelingen:
1. bètacaroteen, 2. vitamine E, 3. beiden of 4. geen van beiden (placebo)?”

De inclusie faalt. Sommigen geloven niet in supplementen, anderen stellen dat het beter zou zijn als rokers stopten met roken (instemmend gelach). Twee mensen zeggen dat ze het in overweging zouden nemen. Maar men vermoed (gezien het voorafgaande) een addertje onder het gras en ze hebben gelijk. Dergelijke studies zijn gedaan en hebben niet het gewenste resultaat opgeleverd.
In de eerste grote RCT (
ca. 30.000 mannelijke rokers!), de ATBC Cancer Prevention Study, verhoogde bètacaroteen juist het aantal longkankergevallen met 18% en de algehele sterfte met 8% (hoewel het effect langzaam uitdooft als mensen met de pillen stoppen). Vergelijkbare resultaten werden verkregen in de CARET-studie, maar niet in een 3e RCT, de Physician’s Health Trial, die ook niet-rokers had geincludeerd.
Aangenomen wordt nu dat sigaretterook bètacaroteen afbreekt tot gevaarlijke afvalproducten, een proces dat gekeerd kan worden door andere oxidanten (normaal aanwezig in het voedsel). Of vitaminen een positieve (anti-oxidant) of negatieve (pro-oxidant) werking hebben hangt erg af van de dosis, de vorm, en de situatie: vitamines in fysiologische concentraties zijn met name nuttig bij een tekort eraan.

Deze manier van studietypes uitleggen aan goed-ontwikkelde leken vond ik erg effectief en leuk om te doen bovendien.

De boodschap is dat hoezeer observationele studies ook op een bepaald effect wijzen, beter evidence verkregen kan worden met een RCT (hoewel dit niet altijd kan en mag). Het laat ook zien dat je als wetenschapper (en dokter) heel voorzichtig moet zijn met het direct vertalen van ‘waarnemingen’ naar adviezen richting een bepaalde therapie of levensstijl.

Aan de andere kant vraag ik me wel af, of alle hypothesen getest moeten worden in een overigens zeer kostbare RCT (kosten van de ATCB trial bedroegen $46 miljoen). Zou er niet een heel stevige basis moeten zijn vòòr je een preventieve studie doet met supplementen bij gezonde individuen? Zijn er geen risico’s ? Zelf denk ik dat we heel terughoudend moeten zijn met chemopreventie studies. Tot op heden hebben ze trouwens niet aan de hoge verachtingen voldaan.
Wat coenzym-Q en komkommerslank betreft? Behalve dat ik er gewoon niet in geloof (ik bedoel dat er evidence bestaat dat ze werken), denk ik dat vermoeidheid het best bestreden kan worden met rust en ik eet zat komkommers. ;) Volgende keer meer…..





A really delicious blog …

8 05 2008

If you like food, blogging, excellent photography, recipes, information about Munich and Web technology and tools including WordPress plugins, than don’t miss delicious days.

In “about” you can read that “delicious days” is made by a passionate German couple in Munich.
She loves to cook and has a job in the design and internet business world and he learned to enjoy cooking and is the technical genius behind the site.

The blog is beautifully designed. Look for instance at the Gallery, with perfect photo’s sorted by category. After you have choosen a particular photo you can move to the next or previous ones or press the play button.

In the recipe-list you can get an idea of the recipe by pressing the “preview”-button, while remaining in the list.

food

Why do I refer to this blog here? I like food, that’s for sure, (I even have a web page on a dutch food web site, smulweb), but I came here while following a link from bakkel dot com (once again) to http://www.deliciousdays.com/cforms-plugin, which is in fact one part of the plugin pages/tabs at delicious days. You’re free to share these plug-ins.

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Als je gek op lekker eten bent, recepten, blogging, mooie foto’s, en geinteresseerd in web 2.0 trucjes zoals wordpress plugins neem dan eens een kijkje op de food blog delicious days.

Delicious days wordt gerund door een duits stel, waarvan zij de de liefde voor het eten heeft ingebracht en via haar werk kennis heeft van design en internet business, en hij de technische inbreng verzorgt. Een ideale mix.

Delicious days is een WordPress blog, maar zo aangepast in stijl dat dat niet direct opvalt. Het zit heel vernuftig in elkaar. In the Gallery kun je foto’s in een categorie individueel bekijken of in serie afspelen. In de receptenlijst kun je eerst een indruk krijgen van het recept door op “preview” te klikken, waardoor er een stijlvolle pop-up tevoorschijn komt. De wordpress-plugins die ze met je willen delen staan op een aparte pluginpagina.

Waarom ik op deze blog terecht kwam? Ik ben zelf een liefhebber van eten en ben geinteresseerd in voedsel in bredere zin; ik heb zelfs een eigen webpagina op smulweb), maar ik kwam toevallig op deze site door (wederom) een link te volgen via bakkel dot com naar cforms-plugin op deze site. Ook weet ik dat enkele spoetnikers zoals Moira geinteresseerd zijn in eten en aan een Google-doc over dit onderwerp hebben samengewerkt (ik weet uit mijn hoofd niet meer wie). Misschien hebben ze hier wat aan. Tevens zullen sommigen die graag zelf hun wordpress willen (gaan) hosten misschien wat hebben aan de tips en de plug-ins. Anderen zullen kunnen genieten van de foto’s.








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