By Dr. Mercola
According to researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, vitamin supplements are probably useless when it comes to preventing heart disease and/or cancer.
Their analysis is being used by the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) to update its recommendations on supplement use, and the findings were recently reported by NBC News2 under the headline: “Vitamins don’t prevent heart disease or cancer, experts find.”
But is this really an accurate evaluation of the available evidence? A strong rebuttal3 to NBC’s reporting was immediately issued by Dr. Andrew Saul,4 editor of the Orthomolecular Medicine News Service.
Dr. Saul has over 35 years of experience in natural health education; Psychology Today named him as one of the seven natural health pioneers in 2006.
“I would like to apologize for NBC News. It seems that the organization that brought us Lowell Thomas, John Cameron Swayze, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley has lowered its standard of reporting,” he writes.
“NBC’s supplement-bashing headline article… displays an ignorance of clinical nutrition that is difficult to ignore, and, thanks to its media prominence, can’t be.
Of vitamin supplementation, NBC specifically said that a ‘very extensive look at the studies that have been done show it may be a waste of time when it comes to preventing the diseases most likely to kill you.’ The ‘very extensive look’ encompassed 24 preselected studies. It looks like they just possibly may have missed a few…”
Dr. Saul ‘Apologizes’ for NBC ‘Hatchet Job’ Reporting on Vitamins
Dr. Saul then goes on to list 19 studies5 showing strong correlations between vitamin use and reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. If you’re in doubt, I suggest you to take a look at some of those studies before you swallow NBC’s “hatchet job on vitamins,” as Dr. Saul puts it. Below is a handful. For the full list, please see Dr. Saul’s article.6
- JAMA 2012:7 Multivitamin supplements were found to reduce cancer risk by eight percent.
- International Journal of Cancer 2011:8 A mere 10 ng/ml increase in serum vitamin D levels was associated with a 15 percent reduction in colorectal cancer incidence and 11 percent reduction in breast cancer incidence.
- American Heart Journal 2011:9 Each 20 micromole/liter (µmol/L) increase in plasma vitamin C was associated with a nine percent reduction in heart failure mortality. According to Dr. Saul, if everyone were to take 500 mg of vitamin C per day—the dose required to reach a healthy level of 80 µmol/L—an estimated 216,000 lives could be spared each year.
- International Journal of Cancer 2011:10 While the NBC declared that “Vitamin E does no good at all in preventing cancer or heart disease,” this study found that gamma-tocotrienol, a cofactor found in natural vitamin E preparations, decreases prostate tumor formation by a respectable 75 percent.
- International Journal of Cancer 2008: Here, 300 IUs of vitamin E per day reduced lung cancer risk by 61 percent.
Were Those Really the Best Studies They Could Find?
It’s worth noting that study selection for the featured review was done by two investigators who “independently selected and reviewed fair- and good-quality trials for benefit and fair- and good-quality trials and observational studies for harms.”
What this means is that they didn’t assess the consensus found in available research, but rather “independently” picked and chose which ones they wanted to include in the analysis.
Out of the more than 12,760 study abstracts screened, a total of 26 studies were selected for inclusion in their analysis. Selected for inclusion were studies looking at the following supplements’ effects on heart disease or cancer:
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Folic acid
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin D with calcium
Also notable is the fact that for a study to be included in the review, it had to use supplement doses lower than the upper tolerable limit set by the US Food and Nutrition board.11, 12 For vitamin D, this means a dose limit of 100 IUs a day for adults! Research suggests most adults need about 35 IUs per pound of body weight in order to obtain therapeutically relevant serum levels. This dose of vitamin D is worthless as most adults require doses 50 times greater. So it is no surprise they found no effect as they were not testing for clinical significant levels. Remember, the devil is in the details.
Vitamin D May Be Critical for Cancer Prevention
Their conclusion on vitamin D is in stark contrast to an ever growing number of studies showing that vitamin D (with or without calcium) has tremendous protective effect against cancer. For example, a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine13 concluded that a serum 25(OH)D level of more than 33 ng/mL was associated with a 50 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer.
Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition14 that same year found that after four years of follow up, cancer-free survival was 77 percent higher in women who received 1,100 IU vitamin D and 1,450 mg calcium per day, compared to those who received either a placebo or calcium by itself. Theories linking vitamin D deficiency to cancer have been tested and confirmed in more than 200 epidemiological studies, and understanding of its physiological basis stems from more than 2,500 laboratory studies.
According to Carole Baggerly, founder of GrassrootsHealth, 90 percent of ordinary breast cancer may be related to vitamin D deficiency. In fact, breast cancer has been described as a “vitamin D deficiency syndrome.” The way vitamin D interferes with breast cancer’s ability to spread is by affecting the structure of those cells—without adequate vitamin D, they fall apart and are forced to “overmultiply” in order to survive. Previous research has shown that optimizing your vitamin D levels can reduce your risk for as many as 16 different types of cancer, including pancreatic, lung, ovarian, breast, prostate, and skin cancers.
Most Important—Maintaining Optimal Vitamin D Serum Levels
Of utmost importance is the maintenance of a therapeutically beneficial serum level year-round. Here, studies indicate that the bare minimum for cancer prevention is around 40 ng/ml. Research suggests an ideal level might be around 60-80 ng/ml. A 2009 review article15 titled: “Vitamin D for Cancer Prevention: Global Perspective,” published in Annals of Epidemiologya states that:
“Higher serum levels of the main circulating form of vitamin D, 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D), are associated with substantially lower incidence rates of colon, breast, ovarian, renal, pancreatic, aggressive prostate and other cancers.
Epidemiological findings combined with newly discovered mechanisms suggest a new model of cancer etiology that accounts for these actions of 25(OH)D and calcium. Its seven phases are disjunction, initiation, natural selection, overgrowth, metastasis, involution, and transition (abbreviated DINOMIT). Vitamin D metabolites prevent disjunction of cells and are beneficial in other phases.
It is projected that raising the minimum year-around serum 25(OH)D level to 40 to 60 ng/mL (100–150 nmol/L) would prevent approximately 58,000 new cases of breast cancer and 49,000 new cases of colorectal cancer each year, and three fourths of deaths from these diseases in the United States and Canada, based on observational studies combined with a randomized trial. Such intakes also are expected to reduce case-fatality rates of patients who have breast, colorectal, or prostate cancer by half… The time has arrived for nationally coordinated action to substantially increase intake of vitamin D and calcium.
Smart Supplementation Could Save Healthcare System BILLIONS Each Year
Although Dr. Saul doesn’t mention it, NBC also failed to mention the recent report on vitamins produced by the Council for Responsible Nutrition Foundation, titled: “Smart Prevention—Health Care Cost Savings Resulting from the Targeted Use of Dietary Supplements.”16 This report concluded that—based on the scientific evidence of benefit— supplementation at preventive intake levels could save the American healthcare system more than $11 BILLION each year. Steve Mister, president of the Council for Responsible Nutrition Foundation17 told Drugstore News:18
“Chronic disease takes a huge toll on people’s quality of life, and the healthcare system spends a tremendous amount of money treating chronic disease, but has failed to focus on ways to reduce those costs through prevention. We already knew that the dietary supplements identified in the report can play a role in reducing the risk of certain chronic diseases; we felt compelled to find out if they could also contribute to healthcare cost savings by reducing the medical events associated with those conditions. This new report says emphatically that they do.”
How to Reduce Cost of Heart Disease by More Than $4 Billion Annually
The “Smart Prevention” report examined the effect of eight different dietary supplement regimens on four chronic diseases: heart disease, diabetes, age-related eye disease, and bone disease, and assessed the potential health care cost savings if American adults were to take these supplements at therapeutic dosages.
Unfortunately, this report also failed to review many of the benefits of vitamin D, which is one of the most widely beneficial and least expensive supplements on the market. Again, a growing number of vitamin D experts estimate it could cut the rate of cancer by half. If this were to be factored into the equation, the health care savings could likely go up by a factor of 1,000 or more, and there would be trillions of dollars of savings instead of billions.
Now, in the case of heart disease, use of omega-3 supplements among adults aged 55 and over diagnosed with coronary heart disease could reduce annual hospital costs by more than $2 billion on average, saving the health care system close to $16.5 billion between 2013 and 2020, according to the “Smart Prevention” report. Use of vitamins B6 and B12 among the target population could also reduce hospital costs by an average of more than $1.5 billion annually, saving the health care system more than $12.1 billion between 2013 and 2020. (Again, vitamin D would also radically lower the cost of heart disease as it has profound benefits in cardiac health, but unfortunately the authors didn’t factor vitamin D in into this equation.)
According to the authors: “An average of $4.23 billion per year and a cumulative savings of $34 billion from 2013 to 2020 in avoidable hospital utilization costs is potentially realizable if all US adults over the age of 55 diagnosed with CHD were to use phytosterol dietary supplements at protective levels.
Likewise, potential total cost savings among the same target population given the use of the psyllium dietary fiber at preventive daily intake levels would be an average hospital utilization cost avoidance of $4.38 billion per year and cumulative savings of $35.05 billion from 2013 to 2020.
The potential net health care cost savings of phytosterols and psyllium dietary fiber supplementation, after accounting for the cost of supplement utilization, would be an average annual savings of $3.32 billion per year and $2.48 billion per year, respectively, after accounting for the costs of supplementation utilization from 2013 to 2020.”
Who Benefits by Scaring You Away from Dietary Supplements?
Earlier this summer, a flurry of media reports told readers to beware, if not outright be afraid, of taking supplements. Two of the primary figureheads in his summer drive of anti-alternative health PR were Dr. Paul Offit and Senator Dick Durbin. Offit, notorious for his claim that infants can tolerate 10,000 vaccines at once, penned a New York Times article with the unambiguous headline: “Don’t Take Your Vitamins.”19 The featured NBC article20 again brought Offit’s radical opinions to the fore:
“Dr. Paul Offit… says he is not surprised by the findings. But he doubts the millions of Americans who buy vitamins will stop because of this recommendation. ‘They are constantly hearing information from those who market these products that they are good for you, that they boost your immunity, that they reduce stress’… Offit said the review could have done more to highlight some of the dangers of overdosing on vitamins…. ‘I would like to see someone step forward and say there’s harm.’”
Of course he would. Take away nutrition, and the only thing you have left to battle disease with is drugs, surgery, and vaccines. While it’s important to remember that a) there is a major difference between natural whole-food supplements and pharmaceutical grade synthetic vitamins and minerals, and b) that supplements should only be taken in addition to, NOT in place of, a healthy diet, I believe Big Pharma mouthpieces are standing on quicksand when it comes their claim that supplements are harmful, or do more harm than good in the long term.
Data Shows the Safety of Supplements
The March 2013 GAO Dietary Supplements report,21 for example, showed how incredibly safe supplements are—particularly when compared to drugs and vaccines. Since 2008, the supplement industry has been required to report adverse events to the FDA’s adverse effects reporting (AER) system, pursuant to the 2006 Act. Consider the following statistics comparing dietary supplement AERs with drug AERs from the 2013 GAO report2 for the year 2008:
- 1,080 dietary supplement AERs were reported to FDA4
- 526,527 prescription drug AERs were reported4
- 26,517 vaccine AERs were reported4
When you do the math, there were 488 times as many adverse events reported from prescription drugs as from dietary supplements. In all, the number of AERs is miniscule compared to the hundreds of millions of supplement servings consumed each year.22 In fact, according to a 2007 National Health Interview Survey,23 more than half of American adults (157 million individuals) take nutritional supplements. Further compare that to the statistic that about the same number of people—just over half of all Americans—take two or more prescription drugs,24 and the difference in safety between supplements and drugs becomes even clearer. Other data further supports the remarkable safety record of dietary supplements. For example:
- In 2002, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reversed its long-standing anti-vitamin stance with the publication of two scientific reviews (based on 30 years’ worth of scientific papers looking at vitamins in relation to chronic diseases), both of which recommended daily multivitamin supplementation for all adults.25
- Data from the US National Poison Data System’s annual report, which tracked data from 57 U.S. poison centers, showed vitamin and mineral supplements caused zero deaths in 2010. For comparison, pharmaceuticals caused more than 1,100 of the total 1,366 reported fatalities.
- FDA-approved drugs cause 80 percent of poison control fatalities each year.26 Poison control centers report 100,000 calls, 56,000 emergency room visits, 2,600 hospitalizations and nearly 500 deaths each year from acetaminophen (Tylenol) alone.
- Data from the European Union indicate that pharmaceutical drugs are 62,000 times as likely to kill you as dietary supplements. You’re actually more likely to be struck dead by lightning or drown in your bathtub than have a lethal reaction to a dietary supplement.
Take Control of Your Health with Proper Nutrition and Lifestyle
Granted, there are poor-quality supplements out there—many of which, by the way, are produced by large pharmaceutical companies—that are made with synthetic ingredients that could potentially do more harm than good, especially in mega doses, which I don’t recommend. Yet the overall safety record of supplements, despite some inferior products being used, really speaks volumes. The same cannot be said for drugs, where even drugs perceived as more or less harmless, such as acetaminophen, actually cause more adverse event reports than supplements.
About 90 percent of each dollar Americans spend on food is spent on government-subsidized, disease-inducing denatured processed foods that tend to leave you vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies. Drugs clearly cannot fix this problem, although conventional medicine surely tries by throwing prescriptions at each and every symptom that is, ultimately, rooted in poor nutrition. In this respect, there’s clearly a place for properly selected, high-quality whole food dietary supplements, taken at therapeutic dosages.
Furthermore, certain nutrient deficiencies, such as vitamin D for example, are rampant now that everyone has been scared away from sun exposure. This is tragic, since the evidence is quite clear that optimizing your vitamin D levels can have a highly protective effect against a wide variety of chronic disease, including but not limited to heart disease and cancer. The featured review in NO WAY disputes such evidence, considering the studies they chose to include.
Ideally, you’d get most or all necessary nutrients from whole food—or in the case of vitamin D, from appropriate sun exposure—but there are cases in which a supplement can be helpful to counteract a deficiency. If you’re eating a wholesome diet you’re FAR less likely to end up with nutritional deficiencies, however. Last but not least, you may sign up for the peer-reviewed Orthomolecular Medicine News Service free of charge at orthomolecular.org. You can also freely access the entire OMNS archive at that link.
- 1 Annals of Internal Medicine November 12, 2013 [Epub ahead of print]
- 2 NBC News November 11, 2013
- 3 Orthomolecular.org November 12, 2013
- 4 Doctoryourself.com
- 5 Orthomolecular.org November 12, 2013
- 6 Orthomolecular.org November 12, 2013
- 7 JAMA. 2012;308(18):1871-1880
- 8 International Journal of Cancer 2011 Mar 15;128(6):1414-24
- 9 American Heart Journal 2011 Aug;162(2):246-53
- 10 International Journal of Cancer 2011: 128/(9); 2182-2191
- 11 US Food and Nutrition Board DRI Tables
- 12 US Food and Nutrition Board, Tolerable Upper Intake Levels, Vitamins (PDF)
- 13 American Journal of Preventive Medicine March 2007: 32(3); 210-216
- 14 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition June 2007: 85(6); 1586-1591
- 15 Annals of Epidemiology July 2009: 19(7); 468-486
- 16 Smart Prevention—Health Care Cost Savings Resulting from the Targeted Use of Dietary Supplements (PDF)
- 17 CRN Foundation
- 18 Drugstorenews.com September 23, 2013
- 19 New York Times June 8, 2013
- 20 NBC News November 11, 2013
- 21 GAO Report: Dietary Supplements March 2013
- 22 ANH-USA March 19, 2013
- 23 ANH-USA October 25, 2011
- 24 CBS Atlanta June 19, 2013
- 25 MREassociates.com
- 26 ANH-USA July 26, 2011
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