Vitamin Pros and Cons




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Vitamin Pros and Cons

Bottom Line's Daily Health News
International Edition

July 06, 2006  

A recent Wall Street Journal article featured a particularly scathing critique of vitamins, suggesting that in reality they "may be doing more harm than good." My quick reaction was shock at such a strong statement in light of the increasing support from both conventional and naturopathic practitioners regarding vitamin usage. Could it be true? Do antioxidants actually promote rather than fight cancer? Does taking vitamin E really increase one's chance of dying? Yes to both, if you use them improperly. Done right, vitamins are as critical for our good health as ever.


Not to worry, says Eric Yarnell, a naturopathic physician and registered herbalist of the American Herbalists Guild based in Seattle, Washington, USA, and author of Clinical Botanical Medicine. He assured me that vitamins remain the crucial ingredients for health that they have always been, and suggested that the article was seriously flawed. Most egregiously, the author overgeneralized and failed to look at the details of the studies (what forms of vitamins were used, who the participants in the trials were, etc.)... and, as I have outlined with regard to several specific herb studies in the past, the devil is in the details.

Certified nutrition specialist Shari Lieberman, PhD, agrees, noting that the piece focused almost exclusively on negative results, when there are thousands of rigorous clinical studies that meticulously document the health benefits of vitamins. In her opinion, the article was "a hatchet job with very little scientific basis."

To delve more deeply into the matter, and to help ease any confusion and concern in the minds of Daily Health News readers, I invited our experts to take a closer look at the article's portrayals of individual vitamins. Their analysis follows...


What the Wall Street Journal said: B vitamins (folic acid, B-12, B-6, etc.) are "touted" for heart health, as they lower levels of the toxic amino acid homocysteine. However, recent studies demonstrated that although the vitamins did indeed lower homocysteine, they did not lower heart attack risk. The article goes on to grudgingly acknowledge folic acid's well-documented role in preventing neural tube defects in babies, with the observation that "not all the research into vitamin B is controversial."

Our experts respond: According to Dr. Yarnell, not only is the evidence that folic acid prevents birth defects not "controversial," it is rock solid and enjoys virtually universal support from health experts. Dismissing this uniformly positive research with such faint praise is typical of the article's sniping, negative tone.

As for B vitamins and homocysteine, upon closer analysis new information comes to light. For example, since the U.S. now mandates folate supplementation in breads and other grain products, we're no longer as folate-deficient a population as we used to be, and folate supplements are not likely to make as significant an impact. Moreover, while the Vitamin Intervention for Stroke Trial demonstrated that B vitamins were not effective in preventing second cardiovascular events overall, a substantial subgroup (including heart attack patients who did not have abnormal B-12 levels or significant kidney impairment) experienced an impressive 21% drop in subsequent ischemic stroke, coronary disease or death.

Your best bet: For optimal effect, take B vitamins together in a B-complex vitamin. A standard daily dosage is 50 mg. A simple blood test can determine whether levels of specific B vitamins such as folic acid or B-12 are low and require additional supplementation.


What the Wall Street Journal said: The article describes research into vitamin C as "disappointing," acknowledging but pooh-poohing the fact that it shortens the duration (by one day) of colds. Even worse, the author suggests that antioxidant vitamins, including C, might be "cancer promoters" rather than "cancer fighters," and disrupt chemotherapy.

Our experts respond: Anyone who has suffered the pain and misery of a cold would no doubt be delighted to take vitamin C and get better a day earlier. In addition, the Journal article fails to mention that the same studies indicate that C also reduces the severity of colds. What Dr. Yarnell found particularly ridiculous was the suggestion that vitamin C might promote cancer or be harmful to take during chemotherapy.

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that prevents cell damage from free radicals, and many other studies -- animal and human -- indicate that vitamin C possesses both tumor growth-inhibiting and chemo-potentiating effects, says Dr. Yarnell. In the end, one's conclusion depends on which analysis one reads, and he points out that the Wall Street Journal article consistently dealt with the negative, vitamin-bashing research.

Your best bet: An average dose of vitamin C consists of 500 mg to 1,000 mg daily. When you are ill or under stress, a naturopathic physician (ND) may recommend higher doses. Dr. Lieberman adds that antioxidants work synergistically, and vitamin C is much more powerful when taken with vitamin E. Vitamin C protects the watery parts and E the fatty parts of your body's cells.


What the Wall Street Journal said: Several studies indicate that beta-carotene (a carotenoid in brightly colored fruits and vegetables that acts as a precursor to vitamin A) can raise the incidence of lung cancer in smokers.

Our experts respond: Virtually all studies indicate that smokers who consume the most beta-carotene-rich fruits and vegetables have the lowest levels of lung cancer. In the study in question, to test this hypothesis, men who smoked cigarettes or were exposed to lung-damaging asbestos were given 20 mg to 30 mg daily of supplemental beta-carotene. Paradoxically, the men who consumed beta-carotene developed more lung cancer than those who received placebo.

According to Dr. Lieberman, the problem here is the form of vitamin used -- synthetic beta-carotene. You cannot equate nutrient-rich fruits and veggies with this single supplement. In her opinion, synthetic beta-carotene should not even be sold, since it may act as a disease-encouraging pro-oxidant (as opposed to a disease-fighting antioxidant) by interfering with the body's absorption of other carotenoids.

Your best bet: Dr. Yarnell agrees, and advises that instead of taking synthetic beta-carotene, you opt for mixed carotenoids -- a supplement that is far closer to the form these nutrients take in nature. If you take vitamin A without medical supervision, do not exceed the federal government's daily recommended dietary allowance (RDA), which for women age 19 and older is 2,310 international units (IU) and for men age 19 and older is 3,000 IU.


What the Wall Street Journal said: Calcium and vitamin D supplementation may not reduce the risk of fractures in women, or at least it may reduce them only in women over age 60. Moreover, calcium supplements may raise the risk for kidney stone formation. The article also cites a study recommending 800 IU daily of vitamin D for older people who are at risk for a vitamin D deficiency.

Our experts respond: It's amazing how deficient many people are in vitamin D, observes Dr. Yarnell. This vital nutrient helps the body absorb calcium, which is essential to forming and maintaining strong bones. In his opinion, the dosage in the Wall Street Journal piece is woefully inadequate, and at any rate, whenever possible, we are better off getting our daily quota of the "sunshine vitamin" by spending time outdoors every day.

As for calcium, we begin stockpiling this vital mineral in our younger years, when we should be sure to eat plenty of calcium-packed foods such as leafy green vegetables (collards, kale, etc.), broccoli and sardines. (As I've mentioned before, cow's milk is best reserved for calves.) Taking supplements when we are older may not be enough to fully compensate for earlier deficits and continued poor eating habits that include calcium-leeching soft drinks, but it is still beneficial. To prevent kidney stones, Dr. Yarnell recommends taking calcium and any vitamin D supplements with food.

Your best bet: Dr. Yarnell points out that our bodies can naturally synthesize all the vitamin D we need with just 15 to 20 minutes of sun exposure daily. In dark winter months, when people can't get outdoors or if there is a deficiency, he recommends up to 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily. The recommended daily intake of calcium (which for better absorption is often paired with vitamin D) is 1,000 mg to 1,200 mg daily for adults. To prevent kidney stones, Dr. Yarnell recommends taking calcium and any vitamin D supplements with food.


What the Wall Street Journal said: Like the B vitamins, vitamin E has been "touted" for heart health, but may result in a higher risk of dying.

Our experts respond: The study cited was deeply flawed. It was a meta-analysis of 19 clinical trials that lumped together different types of vitamin E and different types of patients (many of whom were already at higher risk due to heart disease or diabetes). And again, there was a problem with the form of vitamin used. It matters hugely what kind of vitamin E you take, explains Dr. Yarnell. Natural vitamin E (d-tocopherol) is highly preferable to the synthetic form (dl-tocopherol) because it is much better absorbed by the body. Unfortunately, Dr. Yarnell points out that large-scale studies almost invariably go with what is cheapest -- synthetic vitamin E.

Your best bet: Dr. Yarnell recommends a natural vitamin E blend that contains both tocopherols and tocotrienols, which work together synergistically for optimal effect. (Most multivitamins contain only alpha-tocopherol.) An average dose consists of 200 to 400 IU daily. (Caution: People taking blood-thinning medications such as warfarin (Coumadin) should check with their physicians before using vitamin E.)


At least one take-away message from the Journal article is very good (even if it was not intended that way), says Dr. Yarnell. The message: Take natural rather than synthetic forms of vitamins. That said, he believes we need a broader perspective to give more context to this piece. Taken in the correct form and dosage, vitamins certainly don't cause cancer nor do they increase your risk of dying. In fact, they are very good for you.

According to Dr. Yarnell, the real problem in medicine today is not vitamins -- it is drugs and the number of people they're harming. He suggests that we turn the tables for a moment and look at conventional medicine and drugs with the same critical eye that this article turned on vitamins. For example, Tylenol is the second leading cause annually of liver transplants, and each year up to 98,000 U.S. hospital deaths are due to medical errors. Antacids cause more problems than they cure, and the unnecessary prescription of antibiotics has led to the generation of antibiotic-resistant supergerms. The list goes on and on.

In contrast, practitioners of natural medicine look at the whole picture, explains Dr. Yarnell. They ask: What causes disease in the first place and how can we help prevent it? The fact is that most chronic conditions and diseases can be traced to poor lifestyle choices such as inadequate diet. It stands to reason that correcting nutritional deficiencies with low-tech interventions such as vitamins can help prevent small problems from morphing into big problems and full-blown disease.

Is it really so bad to take a vitamin to promote wellness and prevent disease? Should you wait until you are actually sick and then take powerful, side-effect-inducing drugs? While the Wall Street Journal would have us think so, we know better.

Be well,
Carole Jackson
Bottom Line's Daily Health News


Vitamin Pros and Cons

Eric Yarnell, ND, RH (AHG), Seattle Healing Arts Center, Seattle, Washington, USA. Dr. Yarnell is author of numerous books, including Clinical Botanical Medicine (Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.). He is president of Healing Mountain Publishing, Inc. and vice president of Heron Botanicals. Visit his Web site at

Shari Lieberman, PhD, certified nutrition specialist, University of Bridgeport, School of Nutrition, Connecticut, USA. Dr. Lieberman is author of The Real Vitamin and Mineral Book (Penguin).

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Required Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be construed as a health-care diagnosis, treatment regimen or any other prescribed health-care advice or instruction. The information is provided with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in the practice of medicine or any other health-care profession and does not enter into a health-care practitioner/patient relationship with its readers. The publisher does not advise or recommend to its readers treatment or action with regard to matters relating to their health or well being other than to suggest that readers consult appropriate health-care professionals in such matters. No action should be taken based solely on the content of this publication. The information and opinions provided herein are believed to be accurate and sound at the time of publication, based on the best judgment available to the authors. However, readers who rely on information in this publication to replace the advice of health-care professionals, or who fail to consult with health-care professionals, assume all risks of such conduct. The publisher is not responsible for errors or omissions.

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Doctors Say Vitamins are Safe

Orthomolecular Medicine News Service, July 11, 2006

Follow-Up Report by the Independent Vitamin Safety Review Panel

(OMNS July 11, 2006) More and more practicing physicians are coming forward in support of vitamins. Drawing on decades of actual experience with many thousands of patients, family doctors and specialists assert that vitamin supplements are safe and effective even in high doses.

Peter H. Lauda, M.D., of Vienna, Austria writes:
"Over all the years I have prescribed vitamins for prevention and treatment, for a huge number of patients including both adults and children. I have never seen any serious problems or dangerous side effects caused by vitamin supplements. Furthermore, routinely performed lab analyses did not show any impairments or objective signs of liver, renal and other organ damage caused by vitamin supplements."

Robert F. Cathcart, M.D., of California says:
"Vitamin supplements are safe.  I have never seen a serious reaction to vitamin supplements.  Since 1969 I have taken over 2 tons of ascorbic acid myself.  I have put over 20,000 patients on bowel tolerance doses of ascorbic acid without any serious problems, and with great benefit."

Allan N. Spreen, M.D., of Arizona, says:
"I can certainly state that, after many years of both hands-on practice and personal research, vitamin supplementation is extraordinarily safe, even in doses far higher than published daily recommendations. They are also infinitely safer than any prescription medications."

Richard P. Huemer, M.D., of California, writes:
"Reports of vitamin toxicity, rare as they are, are sometimes based on flimsy evidence. Such fallacious reports may appear in medical journals. In one, it was asserted that a rather unimpressive chronic dose of vitamin A had caused liver failure, but certain histologic features of vitamin A toxicity were not described, nor was any attempt made to quantify vitamin A in the liver or even in the blood."

Jerry Green, M.D., Canada, says:
"After practicing orthomolecular medicine for over 35 years, I have seen that vitamins are extremely safe particularly when one compares them to other patient choices such as drugs, surgery, or doing nothing and thereby suffering from vitamin deficiency from our modern devitalized foods."

Erik Paterson, M.D., also of Canada:
"As a family doctor, I often see serious adverse effects in my patients from conventional drugs.  I have yet to see any such thing from megadoses of vitamins. I believe myself to be alive because of the large doses of vitamins which I take on a daily basis."

Klaus Wenzel, M.D., Germany, writes:
"For more then 20 years I have used vitamin supplements for an increasing number of patients and medical problems. And from all these years of medical practice, I can state that vitamin supplements are very safe."

Chris M. Reading, M.D., in Australia, says:
"I have had measurement done of serum vitamin levels in over ten thousand patients since 1978, and have safely corrected low levels with supplements in amounts far higher than the RDA. Vitamin supplements are safe and essential to correct low vitamin levels and to correct ill health. In my experience, vitamin supplements can save people from premature death, depression, suicide, dementia, psychosis, and heart failure."

Karin Munsterhjelm-Ahumada, M.D., from Finland, writes:
"After nearly 20 years using only conventional medicine, I have an additional 10 years experience working with high dose vitamins. I can assure you that not only have they been very safe, but vitamins are also very helpful in my work with all kinds of very ill patients."

From Sweden, Bo H. Jonsson, M.D., Ph.D., writes:
"Vitamin supplements are very safe, especially when compared to xenobiotic drugs. Used with knowledge, vitamins are enormously important for prevention and treatment of disease."

The educators and physicians of the Independent Vitamin Safety Review Panel assert that: 

1. There is not even one death per year from vitamins. (Watson WA et al. 2003 annual report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers Toxic Exposure Surveillance System. Am J Emerg Med. 2004 Sep;22(5):335-404.)

2. Consumers are not getting a fair picture of vitamin safety and efficacy from government-sponsored sources, particularly the National Institutes of Health. ( and )

3. When they do have all the information, consumers see that vitamin supplements are safe, far safer than drugs. (Lucian Leape, Error in medicine. Journal of the American Medical Association, 1994, 272:23, p 1851. Also: Leape LL. Institute of Medicine medical error figures are not exaggerated. JAMA. 2000 Jul 5;284(1):95-7.)

4. Public access to vitamins should not be restricted. (Testimony before the Government of Canada, House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, regarding nutritional supplement product safety. Ottawa, May 12, 2005).

5. Vitamin supplementation is not the problem. It is under-nutrition and over-medication that are the problems. Vitamins are the solution.


Abram Hoffer, MD
Robert F. Cathcart, MD
Michael Janson, MD
Thomas Levy, MD, JD
Erik Paterson, MD
Woody R. McGinnis, MD
Allan N. Spreen, MD
Bo H. Jonsson, MD, PhD
Chris M. Reading, MD
Bradford Weeks, MD
Karin Munsterhjelm-Ahumada, MD
Jerry Green, MD
Stephen Faulkner, MD
Klaus Wenzel, MD
Richard Huemer, MD
Peter H. Lauda, M.D.
Jonathan Prousky, ND
Michael Friedman, ND
William B. Grant, PhD
Harold Foster, PhD
H. H. Nehrlich, PhD
Steve Hickey, PhD
Gert E. Schuitemaker, PhD

Andrew W. Saul, Editor. Contact email


What is Orthomolecular Medicine?

Linus Pauling defined orthomolecular medicine as "the treatment of disease by the provision of the optimum molecular environment, especially the optimum concentrations of substances normally present in the human body." Orthomolecular medicine uses safe, effective nutritional therapy to fight illness. For more information:


View All Previous OMNS News Releases:




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