At face value Prof Smith's study looks like a 'good news' study from Oxford University. Looking behind the scenes of the study reveals something a lot darker....
The networks today were awash with news of a study that B vitamins are likely to reduce the risk of Alzheimers. The study by Prof David Smith and colleagues from Oxford University aimed to find out whether fairly high dosages of three B vitamins (folic acid, B6 and B12) could reduce the rate of brain atrophy (shrinkage) in patients with mild cognitive impairment. Around 50% of people with mild cognitive impairment go on to develop Alzheimers.
The study, a randomised controlled trial, was fairly small: 85 in the treatment group, 83 in the control. Brain atrophy was measured by MRI scans. Bottom line: brain atrophy was 0.76% over the 2 year study period, as compared with 1.08% in the control. That's statistically significant. Less brain shrinkage means less cognitive impairment. That might pan out to mean less Alzheimers for the B vitamin takers but the study was not long enough to show any longer term effects like this.
So good so far. Vitamins can be good for you, even at high doses. But if you've followed the publicity on this you'll note something interesting. A lot is being made of the "very high" dosages being used. But are the dosages really very high? They tell us they're so high that there could be real dangers if people go and do their own thing and buy these vitamins from health stores.
Actually, the doses are right within the typical ranges used in functional and nutritional medicine. The B12, it could easily be argued, is on the low side. The doses were 800 mcg folic acid, 20 mg B6 and 500 mcg B12. None of the doses are above the highly conservative Tolerable Upper Levels set by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2006. These levels reflect the maximum daily dose that won't cause any adverse effects in even the most susceptible groups. So by definition, the product can't do any harm.
Now, wait for it, the product, TrioBe Plus, is made by a drug company (Meda AB/Recip AB, Box 906, Pipers vag 2A, SE-170 09 Solna, Sweden). Also, if you read the PLoS ONE write up of the study, you'll find that Prof Smith has had to declare a competing interest - the patent for the use of these vitamins in this form against Alzheimers is in his name. He will therefore personally gain massively if your local doc starts to prescribe this to everyone who's complaining about losing their car keys on a regular basis.
Worse than that, regulators in Europe are planning to limit maximum dosages to ridiculously low levels. This is an issue that we are at forefront of working to influence for the better. But if the regulators get their way, the dosages will be massively beneath the levels in the TrioBe Plus product. So if you haven't been scared off by the media that's trying to tell you that the health food versions of these vitamins are dangerous, you don't have to worry, they're going to have take them off the shelves anyway.
Bit by bit, the pharma industry is trying to wrestle control of the natural products market. In Europe, they want to either ban or dumb down products currently sold in health stores in more liberal markets like the UK and Netherlands.
Adding insult to injury, the forms of vitamins aren't even the best ones to use! They are quite inferior - and they are also dirt cheap - meaning there's a bigger profit margin for the manufacturer. In fact none of the vitamins are the optimal forms. The B12 form used is cyanocobalamin when methylcobalamin is more effective and more bioavailable. The B6 form is pyridoxine hydrochloride when pyridoxal-5-phosphate is better - and, ironically, at risk of being classified as a drug in the USA, simpy because it was already registered as a drug despite it being the natural coenzyme form of B6. And, folic acid is nothing like as beneficial compared with substantially higher doses of polyglutamic folates such as 5-MTHF (methyl tetrahydrofolate) and 5-FTHF (formyl tetrahydrofolate) - the kinds you find in dark green-leaved veggies like spinach and green beans that few get enough of.
So here we have it, what appears to be a good news story that actually appears to be more like a demonstration of the mechanism to be used in the pharma take-over strategy that is set to squeeze out existing non-pharma players in the natural products industry.