Yes. And no. (That was the quick answer for those who will get interrupted multiple times before getting a chance to finish reading this.) If you search for information on using supplements, you will find varying opinions about this topic. Some swear by it. Others point to study after study that shows no improvement.
And therein lies the problem when doing medical research on the Internet. You can usually find opinions to back up any point of view. So, how do you figure out who to believe? You need to study the evidence.
Follow the Evidence
Evidence comes in two flavors: anecdotal and empirical (clinical trials). Anecdotal evidence comes from those who have tried something and swear that it works—for their child. So others try it and document their success, and so on.
Clinical trials are controlled scientific experiments with rich documentation on how the tests were carried out. There will be test groups and control groups. The test groups are given the thing being tested and the control group is given a placebo, something that has no effect on the body. The results then compare the test subjects with the control group.
Caveat Emptor (Let the buyer beware)
There are things you need to watch our for in both cases during your research. When reviewing anecdotal evidence, be aware of the following:
- The subjects who tried and failed may or may not shout it to the rooftops in the same way as those who experienced success so the numbers do not reflect the true success rate. Take into account that they are weighted toward those who succeeded.
- There may be variables that affected the outcome. Try to determine from the testimonials if other factors were involved, such as environmental changes, special diets or other therapies already in place that boosted the effectiveness of the supplement regimen.
- People out to make a buck from affiliate sales. Unfortunately, there are people who make lavish claims simply to make money off of desperate people. (Note the same tactic in the clinical trials section.)
- Without comprehensive written documentation, the testimonies can be subjective or based on fallible memories and emotion.
When reviewing clinical trials, be aware of the following:
- Clinical trials are expensive–often into the millions of dollars, so somebody is footing the bill for these. Find out who it is and why they are spending money for the research. Is it to find solutions to problems for the betterment of mankind, a purely scientific pursuit of knowledge based on curiosity or to promote a designed product based on the results?
- Read the study closely. Studies designed to prove or disprove other supplement studies may not re-create the exact dosage or schedule as the original study. What appears to be a valid comparison becomes invalid in the pseudo recreation.
- There are many reports of the trial conditions being set to fit a preferred outcome for the group/corporation that funds the trial.
- The trial may be for too short a period of time, not include enough test subjects or purposely avoid testing elements that, when included, would give a different overall picture of the results.
- Compare several trials testing the same thing to see how they differ and uncover potential hidden agendas.
Now comes the hard part: making a decision. Both types of evidence have their value and their pitfalls. Medical professionals typically rely on clinical trials. It is legally safer and they don’t usually have the time or means to conduct experiments on their own. The circumstances and results of a study are clearly documented making it easy to make a decision.
On the other hand, anecdotal evidence may be all you have because nobody wants to fund a study on something that will not, ultimately, give a return on that investment. Without millions of dollars available to back up the claims, you must use your own level of comfort with what you research.
Supplements can be helpful and even vital to the well-being of your child, but you have to approach your selection with knowledge and wisdom. In addition to research, consult your child’s doctor about recommended supplements. Request tests that can identify vitamin deficiencies. It has been documented that some special needs kids with a particular diagnosis consistently have the same vitamin deficiencies.
If you choose to use anecdotal evidence, research each supplement to see if there are limits to the amount you can give. Some vitamins are water soluble and your body takes what it needs and flushes out the rest. Others build up in the system over time and can cause problems.
A scatter shot approach where you load your child with lots of random supplements is a waste of money. Ideally, have your child tested to identify specific deficiencies and treat those accordingly. Find a professional who will support your efforts to help your child, and who provides direction and follow up care.
Stayed tuned for Part 2.