Pharmaceutical advertising affects journal publication about dietary supplements

Do your own interpretation of this. Here is the abstract of the study:

Advertising affects consumer and prescriber behaviors. The relationship between pharmaceutical advertising and journals’ publication of articles regarding dietary supplements (DS) is unknown.

We reviewed one year of the issues of 11 major medical journals for advertising and content about DS. Advertising was categorized as pharmaceutical versus other. Articles about DS were included if they discussed vitamins, minerals, herbs or similar products. Articles were classified as major (e.g., clinical trials, cohort studies, editorials and reviews) or other (e.g., case reports, letters, news, and others). Articles’ conclusions regarding safety and effectiveness were coded as negative (unsafe or ineffective) or other (safe, effective, unstated, unclear or mixed).

Journals’ total pages per issue ranged from 56 to 217 while advertising pages ranged from 4 to 88; pharmaceutical advertisements (pharmads) accounted for 1.5% to 76% of ad pages. Journals with the most pharmads published significantly fewer major articles about DS per issue than journals with the fewest pharmads (P < 0.01). Journals with the most pharmads published no clinical trials or cohort studies about DS. The percentage of major articles concluding that DS were unsafe was 4% in journals with fewest and 67% among those with the most pharmads (P = 0.02). The percentage of articles concluding that DS were ineffective was 50% higher among journals with more than among those with fewer pharmads (P = 0.4).

These data are consistent with the hypothesis that increased pharmaceutical advertising is associated with publishing fewer articles about DS and publishing more articles with conclusions that DS are unsafe. Additional research is needed to test alternative hypotheses for these findings in a larger sample of more diverse journals. (read the study here)

The study follows and the conclusion is here:

These findings support the hypothesis that in major medical journals, more pharmaceutical advertising is associated with publishing fewer articles about DS and having more negative conclusions about DS safety. While awaiting future definitive studies to confirm these findings in a larger, more diverse sample of journals and to explore alternative explanations, these data support current efforts to reduce conflicts of interest in medical publishing and to make any such conflicts more transparent. The impact of advertising on publications appears to be non-trivial; the ultimate impact of this bias on professional guidelines, health care, and health policy is a matter of great public concern and underscores the need for additional health services research on this topic.

2 thoughts on “Pharmaceutical advertising affects journal publication about dietary supplements

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  1. Absolutely agree with you Pyrs. I am concerned about DS, but far more concerned with pharmaceutical ads. I am concerned about, say, vitamins not being verified by assay, to test whether the claims made by the vitamin company, are consistent with the assay of vitamins found on the bottle. I am concerned about the quality. To get around this, I go with brands I trust, and which have independent assay of vitamin content.

    From being a scientist, I have been exposed to skeptics who believe all DS are quackery and the only “scientific” and “valid” findings and evidence, are entirely pharmaceuticals. However, whatever concerns I have about DS are minimal compared to the incredible harm of the “side effects” a drug may have. Pharmaceuticals are far more likely to kill you than any DS.

    “Science” can also be bought and sold, and does not represent an end to corruption and quackery. It can be the beginning of corruption and quackery. For example, if a Big Pharma company either advertises (as the article states) or outright owns a scientific journal, then the science will certainly not be based upon facts, but based upon advertising dollars as we are now seeing in our society.

    I find the “science” related to pharmaceuticals to be shoddy, the quality of evidence to be poor to none, and while not quackery, I would say, even worse: outright fraud. I think that this fraud should be criminal, as the fraud kills people and hope it will become criminal, with the new administration.


  2. That information is fascinating, albeit expected. I very much look forward to reading more on such studies. Because the implication for the consumer is that dietary supplement manufacturers and claims are simply trends, fads, and quack fodder. Whereas in reality, the same could be said of pharmaceuticals and the fat cat advertising budgets. Its difficult to know who to believe. A malaise and paralysis easily sets in when you are already struggling with severe depression, and sometimes it seems staying the current course and making no decision is the easiest route. One wonders who to believe??? But I am learning a lot about Big Pharma and I thank you for your contributions.
    – Pyrs

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