Vol 5: Comparison of Translational Patterns in Two Nutrient Disease Associations

Structure Abstract

Full Title: Nutritional Research Series: Advancing the Role of Evidence-based Reviews in Nutrition Research and Applications

There are several examples in nutrition of discordance between the results of observational studies and randomized controlled trials (RCTs). We hypothesized that this discordance is attributable to differences in the translational paths of nutrient–disease associations. Translational paths can be assessed using citation analysis. We set out to empirically explore our hypothesis by analyzing and comparing characteristics of the citation networks in two nutritional associations with disease: one where the two research designs generally agree and one where they disagree.

Background: There are several examples in nutrition of discordance between the results of observational studies and randomized controlled trials (RCTs). We hypothesized that this discordance is attributable to differences in the translational paths of nutrient–disease associations. Translational paths can be assessed using citation analysis.

Objective: We set out to empirically explore our hypothesis by analyzing and comparing characteristics of the citation networks in two nutritional associations with disease: one where the two research designs generally agree and one where they disagree.

Study Design and Setting: We compared the characteristics of citation networks using examples where RCTs and observational studies agreed (long chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids [n-3 PUFA]) or disagreed (vitamin E). We performed systematic reviews in each example, constructed citation networks, and compared them with respect to the number of articles and citation relationships between them, as well as the distribution of articles' hub and authority scores.

Results: For n-3 PUFA, meta-analyses of 14 RCTs and 10 observational studies both suggested that higher intake was associated with lower cardiovascular mortality. For vitamin E, the meta-analysis of 14 RCTs excluded a clinically significant effect, whereas 14 observational studies reported a significant inverse association. The respective citation networks consisted of 392 (n-3 PUFA) and 351 (vitamin E) articles. No differences between the characteristics of the two networks were identified. There was no evidence that observational studies predated RCTs in the translational process in either example.

Conclusions: In the two examples, citation network characteristics do not predict concordance in the results of observational studies and RCTs.

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Nutritional Research Series, Volume 5: Comparison of Translational Patterns in Two Nutrient–Disease Associations

Evidence-based Practice Center: Tufts EPC
Topic Sponsor: Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health

Page last reviewed August 2014
Internet Citation: Vol 5: Comparison of Translational Patterns in Two Nutrient Disease Associations: Structure Abstract. August 2014. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/research/findings/evidence-based-reports/nutritn5tp.html