Visualising Evidence for Oral Supplements: Snake Oil All Round

Written by on July 28, 2011 in in the news, Rosacea Supplements with 1 Comment

Below is a wonderfully rich graphic that tries to help visualise the available evidence for the efficacy of dozens of oral supplements.

The aim of the creators is to visualise tangible health benefits when taken orally by an adult with a healthy diet. Only human, randomised placebo-controlled trials were used to create this graphic.

Information is Beautiful: Snake Oil?


(click on the image for a much bigger view)

I recommend having a long slow look at the graphic. Here are some hints to unlock its dense beauty.

How To Read This

Here are some hints on how to read this graphic:

  • This image is a “balloon race”. The higher a bubble, the greater the evidence for its effectiveness. The supplements are only effective for the conditions listed inside the bubble.
  • The size of the bubble represents how many Google search hits there are for this supplement. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the size of the bubble relates the effectiveness of the supplement; it merely shows how often people are looking for more information using the internet.
  • The creators have marked the some supplements in yellow, designating them as ones with low evidence, but promising results – cocoa, NAC, beta glucan, arginine, l-lysine, noni, astaxanthin and tumeric for eg.
  • You might also see multiple bubbles for certain supplements. These is because some supplements affect a range of conditions, but the evidence quality varies from condition to condition. For example, there’s strong evidence that Green Tea is good for cholesterol levels. But evidence for its anti-cancer effects is conflicting. In these cases, we give a supplements another bubble.

If you visit the source web page Information is Beautiful: Snake Oil?, you can also see the data used to create the graphic.

My Thoughts

I was surprised by how few bubbles contained a health condition. Could it really be true that so few supplements have been matched to diseases? Maybe that is exactly why the graphic is sub-titled Snake Oil.

Also interesting  to see how many bubbles are located below the line marked “worth it”.

So one summary from this graphic is that the majority of supplements probably really are snake oil.

What Did You See?

A picture really is worth a 1000 words. So much information can be presented by one image.

What did you “see” that surprised you?

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Read more about: in the news, Rosacea Supplements

About the Author

About the Author: David Pascoe started the Rosacea Support Group in October 1998. .

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1 Reader Comment

  1. Olly says:

    Very interesting. I was about to say how inaccurate this is because it only includes those supplements tested on humans.

    However, they have added a unique additional feature ‘one to watch’. Nice to see Astaxanthin is on that ‘list’.

    Interesting. I take Spirulina, vitamin d, zinc, Astaxanthin and fish oils (well omega 3 which are lower on the list!!??). All feature very highly or are ‘ones to watch’

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