Monday, November 24, 2008

Pharmaceutical companies hope you will not read this


The best efforts of the scientific community to prove the health benefits of vitamins keep falling short.


Everyone needs vitamins, which are critical for the body. But for most people, the micronutrients we get from foods usually are adequate to prevent vitamin deficiency, which is rare in the United States. That said, some extra vitamins have proven benefits, such as vitamin B12 supplements for the elderly and folic acid for women of child-bearing age. And calcium and vitamin D in women over 65 appear to protect bone health.

But many people gobble down large doses of vitamins believing that they boost the body’s ability to mop up damaging free radicals that lead to cancer and heart disease. In addition to the more recent research, several reports in recent years have challenged the notion that megadoses of vitamins are good for you.


Steve Bates said...

I believe this NYT post does a disservice to a large number of people.

Certainly, megadoses of C and E, and kitchen-sink multivitamins, have not had the impact on life-threatening illnesses that we hoped, say, 30 years ago. But there is a lot of evidence that specific supplements are effective for people suffering certain conditions. The sufferers have to do some reading to match the conditions with the supplements, make decisions, and... this is the tedious part... take the pills and compare the results systematically, preferably over several months.

For those addicted to official government information, NIH has an Office of Dietary Supplements that is useful. It works better for searching than for browsing. I've also found the topical articles about specific supplements on WebMD to be useful.

I suffer three diagnosed chronic conditions. Periodically, I go off of my supplements (never my prescription med's) to evaluate their effects. It doesn't take me long to realize that I must resume the supplements or else truly suffer. That is all the evidence I need that the sweeping generalities in the article you cite are, as Rachel Maddow phrases it occasionally, bull-pucky.

ellroon said...

Steve, you are an anomaly. (an anemone?) You have done the careful and necessary research that most do not. I realize for you this article is truly bull-pucky, but there are a lot of people thoughtlessly overdosing on pills that have no need to do so.

And without doing the tedious part, they can do great harm by taking too much, too many, and throwing their bodies out of whack, all with the vague idea these pills will do something good. My husband had my sons take the sports pack vitamins during high school, yet he would pull several pills out. He knew that taking too much (vitamin A? B? something, I forget) could actually hurt.

Your health has forced you to know your body extremely well and to self-diagnose. A lot of people don't pay any attention. To them, vitamins are the good luck charm to ward off evil.

Somewhere I've heard that American sewer waste has more chemicals and vitamins than anywhere else in the world... most of it not necessary.