"The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease."
- Thomas Edison
This page contains two
Bottom Line's Daily Health News
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.
THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS
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
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
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
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
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,
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.
BETA-CAROTENE AND VITAMIN A
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.
CALCIUM AND VITAMIN D
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.)
LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE
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
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
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.
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
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Vitamins are Safe
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Orthomolecular Medicine News Service, July 11, 2006
DOCTORS SAY VITAMINS ARE SAFE
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
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
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
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
2. Consumers are not getting a fair picture of vitamin safety and
efficacy from government-sponsored sources, particularly the National
Institutes of Health. (
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.
INDEPENDENT VITAMIN SAFETY REVIEW PANELISTS:
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: