|Vitamin Mambo Jumbo|
|Sunday, 09 September 2007 14:10|
Dean Edell's Medical Journal is usually quite informative and accurate. However, when it comes to nutrient supplementation and vitamin therapy his reporting sometimes comes across as mumbo-jumbo: information that sounds good but doesn't make sense. A recent headline reads: "One a Day Won't Add Years to Life." I have grown accustomed to such nutrition research reports that confound the issues. Contradictions are the rule in any controversial field, such as medical nutrition, but by now it is obvious that there are some classic forms of bias also.
First there are the reports of exciting vitamin breakthroughs— followed by the overly cautious admonitions that no one should actually take the miraculous vitamin as therapy, not until there is additional "proof." But this denies us probable benefits even though the risk of harm is almost negligible. It doesn't make sense to deprive us of a probable benefit when there is almost no danger of harm. The benefit/risk ratio is favorable in that case. It is mumbo jumbo to say otherwise.
A second type of mumbo-jumbo is found in the many invalid or misleading research reports that contradict the controversial breakthroughs in medical nutrition research. Lately there have been quite a few of these breakthroughs, for example, the significant benefits of antioxidant vitamins, C and E and carotene, are now taken seriously after decades of resistance to the thousands of scientific reports documenting the mechanisms and their related medical benefits in nutrient therapy. And yet we have Dr. Edell's headline, One a Day Won't… based on a single study that seems in direct contradiction to multiple studies to the contrary. How can that be?
Unfortunately, this has been the rule rather than the exception in medical nutrition research for the past 50 years and Dr. Edell is not alone. There remains a political- institutional bias against nutrition medicine throughout the medical establishment and the media. This institutional bias is concealed in the widespread use of the word "antioxidant." This word distracts us from its nutrition origins. Antioxidant nutrients is what we are really talking about, for these are antioxidant vitamins and minerals, such as carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium and zinc and others. The word antioxidant is actually used to cover-up the core fact that vitamins are the main health breakthrough of this century! What drug do we know that adds at least six years across the board to our life expectancy?
Dr. Edell's column refers us to a study conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics in the early 1970s. This study followed 10,000 people for an average of 13 years. No evidence of increased lifespan was found among the 22 percent of those who said they used supplements regularly compared with the 68 percent who didn't take them at all. What is the catch? After all, two recent prospective studies of the effects of the antioxidant, vitamin E, reported a 40 percent drop in the number of heart attacks in the roughly 40,000 doctors and 80,000 nurses followed for 8 and 13 years respectively.
The catch is dose. The amount of vitamin E required in order to obtain this benefit was a megavitamin dose, over 100 units daily. This is over 10 times the RDA of 8 units, which was the amount found in most vitamin pills available in the 1970s. Remember, at that time the health establishment did its best to repudiate vitamin E and went so far as to ridicule vitamin supplementation in general. Doctors who prescribed vitamins were usually regarded as quacks by the medical establishment—and by the unsuspecting public. If you took a nutrition approach to your health in the 70's you were regarded as a "health nut," or a fool with expensive urine.
With all this in mind, consider the recent research by Dr. James Enstrom, of Loma Linda University Medical Center, who found an average 6-year increased lifespan in a 10 year study of over 11,000 men and women, comparing people who took 375 mg or more of vitamin C daily with those whose intake was at or below the RDA of 60 mg. The amount that worked this six-year miracle, 375 mg, is greater than six times the RDA, the recommended daily allowance regarded by the FDA and the health establishment as adequate for health maintenance.
Yes, the RDA is more than adequate to prevent the end-stage deficiency disease, scurvy; but is the RDA sufficient to promote the best of health and longevity? Definitely not. Enstrom's study also identified a 42 percent reduction in death from heart disease and 35 percent reduction in the death rate from all causes.
And even if vitamin supplements did not offer the long-term benefit of increased longevity, how about the immediate gratification of increased well-being? Most people who take vitamin supplements attest to increased energy and stamina. Supplementation with vitamin C by itself provides a 35 percent reduction in morbidity from the common cold, and there is also a 7-fold reduction in complications, such as pneumonia. Combination vitamin-mineral supplementation would certainly work even better.
In Wales, school children on multivitamin supplements scored higher on a test of nonverbal intelligence than a placebo controlled comparison group. In Australia the risk of colorectal cancer was 3 times lower in those who used a multivitamin regularly. Finally, there are several studies in support of improved performance in athletic competition by means of personalized diet and nutrient therapy based on vitamin-mineral testing. Almost half of all Americans are now taking vitamin supplements. Can 100 million Americans be wrong?
Consider how our country's power establishments have treated dissident opinion. When Dr. Linus Pauling rallied over 10,000 scientists worldwide against atmospheric nuclear testing in the 1950's he was vilified by Senator Joe McCarthy—and by a large sector of the American public. He was called a communist and his passport was withdrawn by the State Department. That did not stop him from picketing the White House on our behalf for a test ban treaty. History has already proved how much we owe to this great man, whose philosophical commitment is to science and the alleviation of human suffering. Without him, massive radioactive contamination from atomic testing would have been a disaster long before Chernobyl—and it would have been in our own country! As it is there was a 10 percent decrease in intelligence scores in cities downwind from the Nevada test site.
On a different battlefield: When Pauling analyzed the existing research data on vitamin C and the common cold in 1970, he reported a scientifically incredible result: a 35 percent reduction in symptoms as a result of vitamin C supplementation, benefits that were over-looked in the completed research of others, who had failed to understand their own data! This time his critics called him "senile." He went right on with his work, documented the benefits of vitamin C against cancer, and more recently has developed a remarkable and promising new approach to reverse arteriosclerosis, using both vitamin C and the amino acid, lysine. The few cases so far reported are spectacular.
The upside benefits of vitamin supplementation are now known to be rather close to what Dr. Pauling predicted: Enstrom found 6 years; Pauling had predicted eight. You don't have to be a scientific genius to understand the obvious: the downside risk of taking, say, 500 to 2000 mg of vitamin C and 200 to 800 iu of vitamin E daily is almost nil. There are other nutrients that are often in short supply, especially folic acid, vitamin B6, magnesium, zinc, copper, molybdenum, chromium and boron, to mention some of the most common. Vitamin deficiency is a reality and the price is exacted in terms of unexpected illness and undeserved misery.
Regardless of your age or gender, your best health insurance is orthomolecular: have a medical check-up, of course, but be sure to measure your key vitamin and mineral levels and adjust your diet and supplements according to your personal needs. If that is impossible, then keep on reading the nutrition books and columns and take your vitamins. Keep on learning because in the next few years there will be more advances and more information about the power of nutrient therapy. It's a great time to be alive; a time when you have increasing control over your health because of advances in nutrition medicine. To a greater degree than you know, you owe thanks to Linus Pauling for putting the challenge to the scientific establishment to accept nutrition as orthomolecular medicine. And that's not mumbo jumbo.
Linus Pauling was not just a smart person. He was a true scientific genius, one with a prodigious ability to analyze large blocks of data and keep it all straight. And he was a mathematics whiz, just as comfortable at the mathematical analysis of statistical data as he is in calculating the quantum forces that govern the crystal structure of atoms and molecules. Twenty years ago, his "critics" apologized for him by calling him "senile." Isn't it about time that our medical and nutrition experts change their tune and apologize to Dr. Pauling. History will judge it a disgrace that our country has denied our greatest scientist the official respect and support this is his due. The lack of full government support for his research ideas and efforts in the past 20 years is a loss for all mankind.
. Edell, D: Health Letter in the San Francisco Chronicle, 1994 (10 Feb)
©2007 Richard A. Kunin, M.D.