More Evidence Against Vitamin Use

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    Oct 12, 2011 4:14 PM GMT
    http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/11/more-evidence-against-vitamin-use/?ref=todayspaper

    Two new studies add to the growing body of evidence that taking extra doses of vitamins can do more harm than good.

    A study of vitamin E and selenium use among 35,000 men found that the vitamin users had a slightly higher risk of developing prostate cancer, according to a report published Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association. A separate study of 38,000 women in Iowa found a higher risk of dying during a 19-year period among older women who used multivitamins and other supplements compared with women who did not, according to a new report in The Archives of Internal Medicine.

    The findings are the latest in a series of disappointing research results showing that high doses of vitamins are not helpful in warding off disease.

    “You go back 15 or 20 years, and there were thoughts that antioxidants of all sorts might be useful,” said Dr. Eric Klein, a Cleveland Clinic physician and national study coordinator for the prostate cancer and vitamin E study. “There really is not any compelling evidence that taking these dietary supplements above and beyond a normal dietary intake is helpful in any way, and this is evidence that it could be harmful.”

    The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial, known as the Select trial, was studying whether selenium and vitamin E, either alone or in combination, could lower a man’s risk for prostate cancer. It was stopped early in 2008 after a review of the data showed no benefit, although there was a suggestion of increased risk of prostate cancer and diabetes that wasn’t statistically significant. The latest data, based on longer-term follow-up of the men in the trial, found that users of vitamin E had a 17 percent higher risk of prostate cancer compared with men who didn’t take the vitamin, a level that was statistically significant. There was no increased risk of diabetes.

    The dose being studied in the Select trial was 200 micrograms of selenium and 400 international units of vitamin E. By comparison, most multivitamins contain about 50 micrograms of selenium and 30 to 200 international units of vitamin E.

    Among the women in the Iowa study, about 63 percent used supplements at the start of the study, but that number had grown to 85 percent by 2004. Use of multivitamins, vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc and copper were all associated with increased risk of death. The findings translate to a 2.4 percent increase in absolute risk for multivitamin users, a 4 percent increase associated with vitamin B6, a 5.9 percent increase for folic acid, and increases of 3 to 4 percent in risk for those taking supplements of iron, folic acid, magnesium and zinc.

    “Based on existing evidence, we see little justification for the general and widespread use of dietary supplements,” the authors wrote.

    Everyone needs vitamins, which are essential nutrients that the body can’t produce on its own. But in the past few years, several high-quality studies have failed to show that high doses of vitamins, at least in pill form, help prevent chronic disease or prolong life.
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    Oct 12, 2011 5:40 PM GMT
    The New York Times has a long history of citing research that claims that supplements are harmful, while choosing to ignore research to the contrary. I expect more from the NYT, especially since their other reporting is so balanced.

    The real danger is not from vitamin pills but from prescription drug pills. According to a recent study, "The majority (49.8 percent) of drug-related visits to emergency rooms, or 2.3 million visits, were caused by adverse reactions to legal drugs used as prescribed. " (http://www.drugfree.org/join-together/addiction/er-visits-due-to) In contrast, the ER visits due to supplements are so few that it is almost impossible to find statistics on it.

    Depending on the study, annual deaths in North America due to properly used prescriptions number in the tens of thousands. Deaths due to supplements most years is zero.

  • Buns_n_ammo

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    Oct 12, 2011 5:40 PM GMT
    This kind of reporting and "studies" are such bullshit. Of the 38,000 people tested, how many of them smoked / drank alcohol / never exercised / lived on McDonalds / lived under power lines / were RJ members.... You cant possibly have a control group of 38,000 people without variables. Until they do, ill keep my GNC membership
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    Oct 12, 2011 5:44 PM GMT
    Anything in excess is unlikely a health plus.

    If you eat a balanced diet with lots of grains, fruits and veggies, a multivitamin is likely all you'll need to make up for any lack you might have in your vitamin/mineral intake.

    Hmmm, what's that? Common sense you say? I'll be damned!
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    Oct 12, 2011 5:50 PM GMT
    I've read responses to this study that suggests it was poorly done. For instance, they simply asked people to remember the vitamins they had taken over the last 20 years. Do you remember what you were taking 20 years ago? I sure don't.

    These studies also don't show cause and effect. The vitamins may not have anything to do with the increased deaths.

    Taking too many vitamins is also a problem. I've been shocked to find out how many unnecessary vitamins and minerals are in put into my supplements and food. A while back, I was eating shredded wheat every morning for breakfast and taking a Centrum vitamin. I eventually read the label on the cereal and noticed that it had about 100% of my daily iron requirement. The Centrum has that too, so I was getting double the amount of iron I needed just from breakfast. I also found that many of the supplements my doctor recommended have extra zinc added to them. It's more than I need. You have to read the labels and add up what you are getting to see if you are taking too much.

    I also read a response that said that the researchers who performed the study didn't get the result they wanted from the original number crunching, so they massaged the data until they got a more serious result. This response was from a company that represents the supplement makers, so take it for what it's worth.
  • kuroshiro

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    Oct 12, 2011 7:04 PM GMT
    What I was taught in my nutrition class is that you have to take SEVERE amounts of a vitamin in order for it to do any sort of damage to your body... I wonder what their definition of "higher dosage" is...
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    Oct 12, 2011 7:08 PM GMT
    kuroshiro saidWhat I was taught in my nutrition class is that you have to take SEVERE amounts of a vitamin in order for it to do any sort of damage to your body... I wonder what their definition of "higher dosage" is...


    It varies a lot by the vitamin or mineral, based on what I've read. It is easier to overdose on iron because the requirements are smaller and the body doesn't eliminate it very well. It's very difficult to overdose on the B vitamins because they are water soluble and you just eliminate (pee) out the excess.
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    Oct 12, 2011 7:10 PM GMT
    I generally dont believe anything in the NYT unless its confirmed somewhere else. Their reporting is suspect to say the least.
  • jim_sf

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    Oct 12, 2011 8:16 PM GMT
    kuroshiro saidWhat I was taught in my nutrition class is that you have to take SEVERE amounts of a vitamin in order for it to do any sort of damage to your body... I wonder what their definition of "higher dosage" is...


    Just don't eat the polar bear liver, and you'll be OK.
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    Oct 12, 2011 8:27 PM GMT
    Pfft, what DOESN'T raise cancer risk? Hell, studies show that increased consumption of polyunsaturated fats puts people at risk for certain types of cancer, yet the standard nutritional advice nowadays is to consume the majority of your dietary fat in the form of PUFAs. icon_rolleyes.gif
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    Oct 12, 2011 9:50 PM GMT
    Dallasfan824I generally dont believe anything in the NYT unless its confirmed somewhere else. Their reporting is suspect to say the least.

    DudeInNOVA saidI've read responses to this study that suggests it was poorly done. For instance, they simply asked people to remember the vitamins they had taken over the last 20 years. Do you remember what you were taking 20 years ago? I sure don't.

    It's not like the NY Times had a reporter do the study in their spare time.
    The OP mentions that one portion of the study was stopped in 2008.
    So no, it didn't ask people to "remember" what they were taking 20 years ago.

    The full study can be found here:

    http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/301/1/39.full


    DudeInNOVA saidI also read a response that said that the researchers who performed the study didn't get the result they wanted from the original number crunching, so they massaged the data until they got a more serious result. This response was from a company that represents the supplement makers, so take it for what it's worth.

    No offense, but absent a citation it's worthless all the way around.


    DudeInNOVA saidThese studies also don't show cause and effect. The vitamins may not have anything to do with the increased deaths.

    We're talking statistical probabilities.
    You almost sound like Marlboro disputing smoking-causes-cancer studies.


    DudeInNOVA saidTaking too many vitamins is also a problem....

    How odd. Despite repeatedly attacking the study, now you're telling us it matches your personal opinion...?


    Buns_n_ammoYou cant possibly have a control group of 38,000 people without variables. Until they do, ill keep my GNC membership.


    You may be right that there may be differences between smokers and jocks, etc. Not that I'm sure why a smoker's/jock's prostate would react differently to Vitamin E or Selenium, or why one should take more/less than the other. [BTW, only 7.5% of the subjects were smokers.]

    However, I'm curious why absent evidence your default position is to take vitamins.
    (Yes, this is a bit of a theist/atheist question. Do you likewise believe in a deity/flying-spaghetti-monster absent evidence for or against either?)


    From the study's conclusion:
    selenium, vitamin E, or selenium + vitamin E (at the tested doses and formulations) did not prevent prostate cancer in the generally healthy, heterogeneous population of men in SELECT. These data underscore the prudence that is needed in considering recommendations to use agents for the prevention or control of disease in the absence of convincing clinical trial results. These findings also compel the medical research community to continue the search for new, effective agents for prostate cancer prevention.

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    Oct 12, 2011 11:19 PM GMT
    There are two problems with this: first, high doses of anything can obviously cause harm. It is possible for most nutrients to reach toxic levels in the body.

    But I'm sorry, I don't see how that supports the conclusion that NO vitamins are the way for EVERYONE to go.

    For example, it has been clearly established that most of the population at any latitude higher than Los Angeles will NOT get enough vitamin D by counting on natural sun exposure alone. For some people, small doses of vitamin D must be added to their diet, and the severity of this deficiency can easily be screened in routine blood testing.

    The second problem with articles like these is that there is the slippery slope: the general public sees the word "vitamin" and then thinks "supplements," and then assumes "minerals" are the same thing. They are not.

    There are some very specific reasons why most of our table salt is IODIZED. This is a SUPPLEMENT folks! Just like how zinc is commonly added to breakfast cereal. There is concrete evidence that most of the population does not get enough of these nutrients (i.e. minerals) in food alone, and that is why they are commonly added to many types of foods.

    Why can mineral deficiencies occur even with people who have the most balanced diets? First, it is possible for someone to have a disorder that prevents absorption. Second, while many vitamins are readily produced by natural plant and animal growth, which in turn we consume, minerals cannot be "synthesized" like vitamins- if they do not come out of the soil and into our food, then the food grows without them. The endgame to minerals is that a lot of our food is grown in poor soils and/or soils that have been depleted of their available mineral content.

    So be careful not to jump on any bandwagons! The best thing to do is to evaluate your nutritional needs based on activity level, age, and health, and get some routine blood screening done with your doctor too.
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    Oct 14, 2011 8:00 AM GMT
    The highest risk factor for prostate cancer is being old.
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    Oct 14, 2011 8:43 AM GMT
    Dallasfan824 saidI generally dont believe anything in the NYT unless its confirmed somewhere else. Their reporting is suspect to say the least.


    icon_lol.gif

    One of the best news organizations in the world, and you think the paper's reporting is suspect? Sure, it's had a couple issues with lazy reporters but it's nothing compared to the likes of Faux News, The WashingtonPost, Washington Times, Washington Examiner ...
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    Oct 14, 2011 1:56 PM GMT
    westanimas saidI don't see how that supports the conclusion that NO vitamins are the way for EVERYONE to go.

    That wasn't a "conclusion" of the study - just a headline in a newspaper. (:
    (Don't judge an article by its cover.)