Science, Science and Society

Incredible infographic: the evidence for health supplements

To paraphrase: not much, and what there is is often conflicting.

information is beautiful - snake oil

So says a fantastic new infographic from my favourite data visualisation prOn website, Information Is Beautiful.  Even better, the graphic is actually interactive,  which means you can have a look at individual conditions, from sex to cancer and plenty in between, and split it down by type of supplement as well.

And, for those who’re interested, it would appear that there’s nothing you can take for sex, supplement-wise, whereas cancer has a mix of intriguing things that might actually work and those that won’t.

Have fun playing!  I certainly have been…

In other hilarity, and for those who’d like a TGIF giggle, I have another gift.  Having been chatting about failblogs last night, I woke up this morning to find a new one doing the rounds today: a science failblog!

HT: friend (and soon to be podcast co-host) Geoff Palmer, who blogs over at PCWorld.

  • Brendan Moyle

    There’s also been a twitter string of similar disasters under the #scienceconfessions hashtag over last couple of days. Most tend to fall in the lab confessions set.

  • Aimee Whitcroft

    Oh excellent, thanks :)

  • repton

    I notice both iron and iodine are below the “worth-it” line. I thought iodising salt was instrumental in knocking out goitre, and I know many women are advised by their doctors to take iron pills. Is there really little evidence for either?

    • Aimee Whitcroft

      Hi Repton

      For which conditions were iodine and iron below the ‘worth-it’ line?

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  • repton

    Well, if I click on them, iodine is apparently there for “general health”, and iron has no benefits listed at all.

    On the image above, iodine is just above ginseng, and iron is to the right of goji.

  • Aimee Whitcroft

    Hi Repton. I understand - I was asking which condition you had highlighted when clicking on those supplements, as of course that will make all the difference…

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  • Grant Jacobs


    I think one thing you need to check is precisely what is being reported. If they are reporting the benefits of supplementation over and above what people get from a regular diet, this would make sense. I can’t speak for the iron case, but iodine is already supplemented in salt (and hence other products), etc., so the evidence for additional supplementation over and above this might be conflicting, as the infographic reports. (That the results are “conflicting” might reflect unbalanced diets, for that matter.) You can say the same for many of the others, too.

    The person around here to ask might be Amanda Johnson, who write Food Stuff: She’s written about supplements before.

  • Aimee Whitcroft

    Absolutely. And the work/infographic is also well referenced, too.

  • Aimee Whitcroft

    Iron deficiency is definitely a serious issue in NZ, though. Hence my asking at which conditions Repton had been looking…