We were told by the mass media last week that vitamin supplementation is not only a waste of time, but also potentially dangerous. If it’s in the paper, or on the radio, surely it must be true.
This ill-informed message based on an editorial published in the "Annals of Internal Medicine" (almost entirely funded by pharmaceuticals) even reached the front page of my copy of "The Times". This bandwagon so eagerly jumped on by the media with their links to 'big pharma' was based on a cock-eyed bit of alleged research, which used low grade simulated vitamins produced by, yes, 'big pharma' itself. The assertion that well nourished adults do not need supplements, while being itself demonstrably false, overlooks the fact that most people are emphatically not "well nourished".
The editorial is headed ‘Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements’ and the authors claim that multivitamin supplements show no evidence of a beneficial effect on all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, cancer, or cognitive performance1. They also re-issue outdated studies that appear to demonstrate that beta-carotene, vitamin E, and possibly high doses of vitamin A supplements increase mortality.
The alleged research fails to establish a common level and quality of vitamin. Whilst it is not clear that the minimum intake of vitamins was achieved, it is clear, for instance, that the research did relate to a type of synthetic/isolated vitamin E, which has long been under suspicion. Various types of vitamin E, such as full spectrum, food concentrate and pharmaceutical grade one vitamin E, did not feature. Much the same can be said for the synthetic beta carotene used in the studies. Why would research not be based on the best vitamins available and effective levels, rather than poor quality vitamins at uncertain levels?
On LinkedIn’s EU Naturopathic Group Professor Roderick Lane highlights the huge non-compliance admitted in the Gervasio cardiovascular study and that in the Grodstein cognitive study the vitamin levels ingested may have been too low and/or used with the wrong population, since their control group showed no evidence of cognitive decline. Nor did all studies cited support the lurid headline. One of the key studies quoted in the Annals article, namely the Physicians’ Health Study II, actually found vitamin benefits reducing the risk of cancer and cataracts. In another study, multivitamin intervention significantly improved physical recovery and psychological parameters in over-trained army recruits. As far as cognition is concerned, a more specific study looked at supplementation in people with high homocysteine levels of Vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid and found a reduction in rate of brain shrinkage, and consequently lower risk for dementia. Indeed, vitamin B12 and folic acid are well established as helpful in resisting oxidation in the endethelial wall (please see earlier blogs).
So are ‘these vitamins’ dangerous? Oddly most the studies quoted in the Annals editorial do not show this at all. They show no effect in either direction, so the editorial resorts to older discredited studies to back up this claim: the JAMA 2007 meta-analysis that found an increase in mortality associated with beta carotene, vitamin E and vitamin A has since been re-examined showing an overwhelmingly null or positive effect (Biesalski Reexamination of a Meta-Analysis of the Effect of Antioxidant Supplementation on Mortality and Health in Randomized Trials Nutrients 2010, 2(9), 929-949). The infamous Finnish antioxidant study, showing increase in cancer rates among male smokers taking beta-carotene, was also re-examined taking into account total antioxidant intake, revealing that more total antioxidants resulted in fewer cancers (July 2004 American Journal of Epidemiology Development of a Comprehensive Dietary Antioxidant Index and Application to Lung Cancer Risk in a Cohort of Male Smokers, Wright et al). A vitamin E meta-analysis showing increases in mortality (Edgar R. Miller, III, MD, PhD; et al. High-dose vitamin E supplementation may increase all-cause mortality, a dose response meta-analysis of randomized trials. Annals of Internal Medicine: Online: Nov. 10, 2004: Print: 4 January 2005 | Volume 142 Issue) was followed up with a major review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition re-examining the totality of safety data and concluding that doses of up to 1,600 IU daily are safe (John N Hathcock, et al. REVIEW ARTICLE: Vitamins E and C are safe across a broad range of intakes. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 81, No. 4, 736–745, April 2005,). Professor Lane reminds us that, “In fact, there’s lots of good evidence coming out every day showing the benefits of targeted supplements on specific health outcomes”; e.g. vitamin D reducing mortality rates in elderly women, who were deficient is just one example (Bjelakovic et al Vitamin D supplementation for prevention of mortality in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Jul 6;(7):CD007470. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007470.pub2).
For another powerful refutation of this latest anti-vitamin canard please take a look at: http://www.naturalnews.com/043254_mainstream_media_multivitamins_quack_science.html
It is a short jump from rubbishing vitamin supplementation to rubbishing all supplementation. As readers of this Website will know there is compelling evidence showing that supplementation can preserve and restore good health. I, of course, emphasize the importance of Arginine Derived Nitric Oxide, but the wondrous effects of vitamin C, a good quality pure fish oil (Omega 3) and co-enzyme Q10 should be made widely known. Sadly our mass media seem to take little interest in good news stories about supplementation. Equally sadly they frequently laud chemotherapy, statin drugs and ADHD drugs for children.