Thursday, February 19, 2009

In response to the NY Times article “Vitamin Pills: A False Hope?” published on February 16th 2009

This article was meant to be scandalous and grab the readers’ attention. Unfortunately, a lot of media attention is given to research studies that come out that appear to show evidence that goes against everything we believe. The appropriate way to look at research is to look at the entire body of evidence but it isn’t easy. This is what we hope doctors and other health experts are trained to do. Of course doctors are only human so have their predisposed ideas and beliefs and don’t always interpret the research with an unbiased eye. So one study comes out and he or she says, “See, I knew vitamins didn’t work!” I would like to shed some light on why this article was a waste of time and why vitamins, something most MD’s know very little about, actually do work, but in a different way then conventionally thought.

I will start by showing the gross misinformation regarding the studies cited as to why vitamins “don’t work”. The first study was conducted by the Women’s Health Initiative and apparently showed that vitamins don’t affect the risk of cancer or heart disease. The investigators happened to collect data of post-menopausal women, almost half of who were also randomly involved in other trials including hormone replacement therapy, which has a known association with hormone dependant cancers. The “participants” were not controlled by known scientific standards as to what vitamins they were taking or how much. A study whose results are meaningful amongst the large amount of data would have used a particular multi vitamin in a particular dose. The study was done for 8 years, this means that who knows what lifestyle factors were present during the majority of these women’s lives, most likely when the cancers and heart disease began to develop.

The second study cited was the Physician’s Health Study which showed small amounts (400 IU of vitamin E every other day and 500 mg of vitamin C per day) of vitamins do not prevent or treat heart disease in older men. Again, this is not a surprise since this small amount of vitamins is of little clinical use and cardiovascular disease takes a lifetime to develop.

The third study cited that had been published by JAMA was actually a well-done study. It showed that in men over 50, a five-year use of vitamin E and selenium did not reduce the risk of prostate cancer. However, considering that at autopsy over eighty percent of men have prostate cancer, I am not sure how this information helps us. As a physician I would never prescribe this as a solution for the prevention or treatment of prostate cancer.

Although there is a lot to learn in the world of high-dose vitamin therapies (orthomolecular medicine), one thing we learned from these studies is that anyone who thinks a multivitamin is a substitute for eating fresh fruits and vegetables is idealistic or uninformed. So why waste time trying to find out if that alone will cure anything? One point the article made about reductionistic perspectives was valid, which is why one pill of any kind, natural or otherwise will cure nothing. With professional guidance from someone who is trained in natural therapeutics including diet and nutrient therapy and botanical medicine, one can treat and/or reverse chronic disease. But you cannot wait until you are 50 to start taking the necessary steps for true health and expect any miracles.

I challenge the opposite to this dilemma; how does vitamin deficiency affect long-term health outcomes? Let’s look at the Standard American Diet (aka S.A.D.), or the beige diet: French fries, burger buns, pancakes, pasta, white bread, and dairy and animal products. The fact that these foods have had to become “fortified” speaks volumes about the nutritional value of our food supply. THIS is why multi vitamins are necessary, but they are not the answer to an unhealthy diet or lifestyle. Dr. Eric Klein holds a lot of titles for being so ignorant of the importance of vitamins in regards to health. Well, we have the answer: the highest obesity, diabetes, and heart disease rates in the world. We don’t need to research it; it is a statistical fact.

To end on a positive note, by far the only great point the article made was of the “possibility” that vitamins may not be the only beneficial constituent in vegetables. Could it be that all those bio-flavanoids (plant pigments), enzymes, beneficial bacteria, and other countless constituents in the plant material have an effect? There is a reason why every doctor on the planet says “eat more fruits and vegetables”, and its not because a study told them so. It is because its common sense.

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