Negative Vitamin Articles! Fact or Fiction?

    Question: from Larry

    This month two different magazines (Prevention and Reader's Digest) published articles saying that researchers are now questioning the effectiveness of multivitamins specifically disclaiming previous studies of the assets of the antioxidants (A, C, and E vitamins).

    Both articles suggested there is little to no evidence that these vitamins are helping to guard against any disease or making you healthier. Both also warned of excessive quantities of vitamins in today's multivitamins.

    Both also agreed that their recommendations to patients today are fish oil and vitamin D as they do have known benefits and most people don't consume them in adequate supply (or get enough sun to make up the difference). I was curious if you have any feelings on this.

    Answer: from Warren

    Over the years there have been many articles published in various journals suggesting that various vitamins are not effective. In some cases, they are correct when taken in the context of the study itself. A good example is vitamin E.

    There was a study done some time ago in which the researchers concluded that not only was vitamin E not beneficial for health but could potentially even be dangerous. This study got a lot of media attention but very few of the media picked up the obvious flaws in it… which were several. The first thing is that the form of vitamin E used in the study was not a natural one but rather a synthetic one and was of a narrow spectrum.

    In order for vitamin E to be effective it has to be natural and a broad spectrum...for example, not only include alpha tocopherols but also gamma. But it doesn't stop there. Even for mixed tocopherols to be effective it has to be taken with tocotrienols.

    Vitamin E is not present in nature as a single isolate molecule so the studies that gave a negative result were doomed to fail from the outset... something that some commentators believe was the researchers’ objective in the first place.

    With regard to vitamin A, there has been some concern that high levels of vitamin A can be a negative for bones... but that is not really a concern as most responsible manufacturers provide vitamin A in the form of mixed carotenoids which overcomes that issue. The carotenoids convert in the body to Vitamin A, but only to the extent that it is needed.

    There have also been negative studies on beta-carotene (which is a carotenoid) but this was of the synthetic type, not the natural broad-spectrum type such as we use. The efficacy is quite different. With regard to vitamin C, I agree that it is possible to overdose on this vitamin and many people do. There are also many different forms of vitamin C and when in ascorbic acid form large doses can act as a pro-oxidant which is exactly the opposite of what is desired.

    I agree about fish oil in that most people do not take enough and that it is essential. In so far as vitamin D is concerned, we do not believe that people should take large doses of this. It is not natural and can be damaging. The only effective and safe way to get it is through the sun.

    Since the media has instilled fear in the minds of people about sunlight, cancer rates have increased and will continue to do so until people start sensibly embracing the sun. Sensible sun exposure protects against cancer. It doesn't promote it. The key with vitamins is to have them in modest amounts but use the correct form and ensure they are broad spectrum and comprehensive. They are all interdependent.