vitamins, vitamin E, dietary supplements

Are Vitamins Helpful, Ineffective, or Harmful?

November 25, 2008 07:59 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Recent studies suggest that vitamins may not be the cure-all that many believe them to be in treating a variety of ailments.

Studies Cast Doubt on Effectiveness of Vitamins

In a roundup of scientific studies from the past few years, The New York Times’ Well blog concludes that scientists’ efforts to prove the benefits of taking vitamins “keep falling short.”

Last week, a clinical trial found that the vitamins E and C had no effect on cancer rates for men, and another recent study found that they had no effect on heart disease. Last month, a trial on vitamin E and selenium’s effect on prostate cancer ended early due to concern that they were having harmful effects, and doctors also reported recently that vitamin C protects cancer cells, in addition to healthy cells.

Although vitamins such as B12 supplements for the elderly and folic acid for women, and calcium and vitamin D for women over 65 have been proven to be beneficial, more than a decade of research is showing that taking large doses of vitamins is not necessarily beneficial.

Background: The good and bad news about vitamins

The news about vitamins in the past year has been mixed.

In March, scientists announced that children who take vitamin D may reduce the risk of developing type 1 diabetes as adults by as much as 30 percent. Health blogger John Briffa says the study is “another piece in the ever-growing body of evidence linking vitamin D and sunlight with benefits for health and disease-protection in both adults and children.”

In October, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that young children and babies get more vitamin D to prevent Parkinson’s disease and other disorders. The AAP recommended at the time that infants take in double the amount of vitamin D previously recommended.

But other studies in the past year have shown that vitamins and supplements are ineffective, or even harmful. Earlier this year, the makers of the popular multivitamin supplement Airborne agreed to a $32.3 million settlement for making the false claim that the product cures and prevents colds.

And in April, a review of 67 health studies conducted by the Copenhagen University hospital in Denmark found that taking the vitamins A and E and the supplement beta-carotene might actually raise the risk of premature death. The UK newspaper The Guardian reported that “vitamin A was linked to a 16 percent increased risk of dying, beta-carotene to a 7 percent increased risk and vitamin E to a 4 percent increased risk.”

The New York Times notes that researchers have been reporting on the negative effects of vitamins for more than a decade. A 1994 study in Finland found that beta carotene increased the incidence of lung cancer among smokers, while a similar study in 1996 of beta carotene and vitamin A use among smokers and workers exposed to asbestos found that the vitamin users showed an increased risk for lung cancer and death from heart disease.

Opinion & Analysis: The vitamin debate

In response to the latest news about vitamins E and C, Ginger Marks at the National Ledger says that people who are confused about the health benefits of supplements should consult a medical professional. “Many believe that vitamins are a cure all and help protect against lousy eating and exercise habits. Consult you doctor; find out how much you should be eating, what particular vitamins you should be taking and exercise. Don’t spend your money on anything without doing the research.”

If you are wondering how to maintain your health without supplements, Fran Berkoff of the Toronto Sun reminds readers that the vitamins found naturally in food are always best. “While some of the studies question the value of taking supplements, none so far question the value of eating foods rich in these antioxidants. The benefit of a diet rich in these compounds may be that they act in combination with other things that are naturally found in foods—other vitamins, minerals, plant chemicals and fibre. And it may be this combined effect that provides you with the positive antioxidant benefit,” Berkoff writes.

Reference: Web Guide to Dietary Supplements


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