Supplement Perspectives
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Giving Traditional Studies the "Boot"

Regular contributor Dr. C. Leigh Broadhurst on “boot camp studies”—and why they could make every party in the industry happy.

A major disconnect between supplement manufacturers or retailers and scientists or clinicians who study human nutrition is the time frame of effects.

If you’re a mainstream nutrition research scientist, the overarching mission of your institution--be it university, government or private--is to provide guidelines for healthy eating that apply to the majority of the population over their entire lifetimes. Certainly, individual projects may apply only to premature infants, or those with peanut allergies or in nursing homes, but they are puzzle pieces that must connect to build a lifetime of eating. This mission can be highly contradictory to the business aspect of functional foods, nutritional supplements, sports performance-enhancing products, etc.

In the “natural eating” industry we strive to provide the healthiest foods, thus we must demonstrate in a relatively short time frame that converts to our (often far more expensive) lifestyle are more active, less sick, leaner, faster, stronger, and have an overall reduced risk for chronic disease.

So many of you would love to see nutrition research run like boot camp: subjects are immersed in rehab-like conditions where a comprehensive program of exercise, supplements, and specific meals is mandatory. And the control group is left alone with their sugar and fast food addictions. I believe “boot camp” studies would have spectacular results, sealing the deal for just about every green drink, protein powder, and probiotic on the market. Indeed, the few mainstream studies run this way were very positive and well-received by the public (e.g., Dr. Dean Ornish).

High quality, peer-reviewed research using an adequate number of human subjects for statistical significance takes time to plan, execute, analyze, and report. A major study in a Western country may take a decade or more, and the only way to drastically shorten the time is to use animals--an increasingly unacceptable compromise.

A current work-around is the rise of online journals based in developing countries that publish material with limited or no review. These journals are helpful, for example, if your new herbal product has nothing but folklore backing it, but there will be nagging questions concerning the validity or applicability of the research.

However, I would challenge the industry to work with some open-minded scientists to develop “boot camp studies,” and initially publish in these less rigorous journals. We could develop spas where subjects pay to get healthy, but get a huge price break if they finish the program 90 percent or better than their baseline—and agree to anonymous publication of unbiased results.

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