Vitamin Supplements: Necessary, Indulgent or Even Harmful?
The Color Atlas of Human Poisoning and Envenoming by James Diaz contains an astonishing statement, “With the exception of folic acid for women of childbearing age, there are no indications for empiric vitamin therapy in developed countries.” That is, despite the fact that use of vitamin D is recommended for prevention of osteoporosis, C is given for colds, and E for prostate cancer, this reference used in medical schools throughout the country states that there is no scientific evidence that vitamin pills are necessary or helpful.
Currently about 30% of our population take a daily vitamin supplement and annual sales exceed 25 billion dollars (Jerome-Morais et al.). But, according to this peer-reviewed article by scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago, clinical trials show that taking antioxidants such as vitamin E, C, carotenoid, selenium, and polyphenol supplements is not beneficial and may be detrimental to your health. Whereas consuming these vitamins through a balanced diet (containing fruits and vegetables) does reduce the risk of chronic disease, taking multivitamins increases risk of melanoma and prostate cancer, high dose vitamin E increases “risk of all-cause mortality” and high dose vitamin C and E in pregnant women increases risk of low birth weight babies. The pros and cons of vitamin D supplements have already been covered in the February AITSE newsletter.
A balancing viewpoint comes from nutritionist Dr. Elaine Fleming of Loma Linda University, who has advised AITSE that people who are not in optimal physical health may benefit from some vitamin supplementation. After all, she points out, many of our food staples come fortified with B12, omega 3 fatty acids seem to have desirable advantages, and the FDA has recently recommended that people over 50 take vitamin D (in contrast, the Diaz book points out that vitamin D is the most commonly used type of rat poison).
What is the take home message? There are no short cuts to good health. The best source of vitamins and antioxidants can be found in the produce aisles of your grocery store, not the endless rows of pills in the “health food” store. Selling pills makes the manufacturers wealthy, but the purpose of AITSE is to educate the public about good science, based on evidence, not financial benefit.