Snake Oil version 2

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

We’ve updated SnakeOil, our interactive “balloon race” visualization of the scientific evidence for over 100 nutritional supplements.

This Flash app coded by the awesome Andy Perkins is generated from the data in this spreadsheet: – lovingly curated by researcher Miriam Quick.

What Have We Done?

We’ve revised the data from top to bottom. That included processing over 300 emails from visitors who offered evidence, fresh studies and often angry criticism of our ratings. People invested in Fish Oil & Omega 3? Chill out! (Maybe try smoking some of that fish oil?)

We’ve also factored in a bunch of new studies from the last year. Revised our categories. And added a series of new supplements including: chromium, rhodiola rosea L., grape seed extract, coconut oil and melatonin.

We also worked with the Cochrane Institute to help improve our library searches and study sources.

See exactly what’s changed in our change log.
(Note: the still image version is still using old data as I haven’t had time to update it yet.)

SnakeOil Analytics

We’ve had analytics running on the app over the last 6 months. That’s allowed us to track the exact way people use the viz and which supps they explore.

• visitors: 750,000
• visitors who interacted: 220,000 (30%)
• most popular filter (by a long way): sex (followed by cancer, anti-viral and mental health)
• most popular supplements (above the worth-it-line): green tea, fish oil, vitamin D, St John’s wort, probiotics
• most popular supplements (below the worth-it-line): devil’s claw, L-lysine, L-carnitine, lutein, CoQ10, goji (hmmm, lot of body-building supps there)

Help Us Improve This

As ever, if you see a good, solid randomized-controlled trial or meta-study, or an error in our data – or just want to rag us for rating Fish Oil so low, do get in touch or comment below!

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Show Comments ( )

  • Aaron Slepkov

    Has Reservatrol, which in the Google document is listed as a “0″ for evidence been downgraded as a result of the findings of massive fraud in Dr. Dipak Das’ (UConn) work, or was Reservatrol at the “no evidence” since the chart’s creation? I’m curious.

  • Meridian Hutchins

    Would love to see y’all add ‘infertility supplements’ as a category. Things like pomegranate, green tea, vitex, vitamin-E, etc. There are so many people willing to do almost anything to get pregnant, including spending lots of money on snake-oil products.

  • Tom Whitmore

    I’m confused. Antioxidants show up as a positive for general health, with the specific in the bubble of “infertility in men” — but it doesn’t show up as a positive in “Men’s health”. This makes me curious about what criteria were actually used for sorting the information bubbles, as infertility is very clearly an aspect of health and it’s particularly tied to men in that display bubble.

    • wilheru

      I was wandering the same thing. I think it was overlooked when the categories ‘Women’ and ‘Men’ were added.

  • MBJ

    Would love to see soluble fibers (psyllium, etc).

  • Kevin

    Hello. Thank you so very much for taking the time to produce this presentation for all to use. I really like it and the principles behind it. I am just curious if there are still plans to make any updates/changes anymore? I havent seen you reply in a while on here. Regardless, thanks for your time and have a wonderful day!

  • Ben Curly

    Hello. Is this project still alive? If so I’d like to see the bee pollen added to the chart. I’ve seen a lot of conflicting information about it, and would like to know what are the real benefits of taking it. Thanks in advance.

  • Le

    Love this chart. I regularly refer to it and the spreadsheet.

    Please consider adding chlorella

  • Rick Rodziewicz

    How about Astragalus in prevention of D N A damage. Seems to be a lot of chatter around the net about this. Any way to get this one measured ?



  • david

    Anti-oxidants appear in two places/levels – should this be?

  • http://HealthForensics dr gayle

    This kind of misinformation always interests me, perhaps because I have been studying and using natural remedies for over 50 years. I find it interesting too that PubMed refuses to index the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine and other publications that give more accurate information on essential oils (how I cured my over exposure to black mold), herbs and vitamins. If you rely only on mainstream work then you are as much of a lineal thinker as these “researchers” who do junque science. I always like the vitamin E studies that end stating that it does not work and find out the dose is too low or the product was synthetic. Vitamin E is an O2 carrier that takes oxygen across the alveolar membrane if you use the correct kind and take enough. It is like the 1600-2000 mg of E that prevents neuropathy in people with diabetes but you don’t hear about it unless you talk to those of us who know the history and the available documentation. And then there is the Green tea link to pancreatic cancer that is overlooked.
    If you want fertility help, natural care does work.

  • Jotto999

    Oh darn. My father is taking Glucosamine for his arthritis, apparently he’s wasting his money :-o

  • Troglodyte

    Super cool. What a great summary. If you guys get another chance to update it, I for one, would be both curious and grateful.

  • Vampyrecat

    1. I am curious about calcium magnesium zinc or just magnesium for muscle cramps. I get really painful cramps in my calves and feet from time to time, usually in the middle of the night, and if I start taking cal mag zinc it seems to help but I could just as easily see this being a placebo effect.
    2. Similarly, I am surprised to see Vitamin D below the “worth it” line for mood, but again it could just be a placebo effect.
    3. Maybe I missed it, but is Iron helpful for female vegetarians who feel fatigue and lack of alertness?

  • Cindy Crawford

    This is absolutely brilliant. We conduct systematic reviews in the area of integrative medicine and would like to be able to present our information in this fashion. do you offer that to outside entities or consult with organizations?

  • Davidd

    St. John’s wort should be higher. The very link you gave says its as effective as standard antidepressants with less side effects for moderate/mild depression.