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Bashing Vitamins...Again.

October 24, 2011, 2:10 pm

Vitamins have been in the news lately, and not in a favorable light. Two new studies - from the Journal of the American Medical Association and the Archives of Internal Medicine - allegedly report that taking high doses of vitamins do not aid in warding off disease. And to quote a doc, Eric Klein, from the Cleveland Clinic, "“There really is not any compelling evidence that taking these dietary supplements above and beyond a normal dietary intake is helpful in any way, and this is evidence that it could be harmful.”

Mark Hyman, MD, disputes these recent findings with compelling arguments of his own. According to an article in Huffington Post, Dr. Hyman explains how correlation does not prove cause and effect, and gives good examples of flawed conclusions based on scientific studies, such as the popular belief by the medical community of hormone replacement therapy reducing the risk of heart attacks in women. (They later discovered that it was actually killing women.)

To borrow an entire passage from the article:

"This latest study from the Archives of Internal Medicine of 38,772 women found that "several commonly used dietary vitamin and mineral supplements may be associated with increased total mortality". The greatest risk was from taking iron after menopause (which no doctor would ever recommend in a non-menstruating human without anemia).

The word "may" is critical here, because science is squirrelly. You only get the answers to the questions you ask. And in this case, they asked if there was an association between taking vitamins and death in older woman. This type of study is called an observational study or epidemiological study. It is designed to look for or "observe" correlations. Studies like these look for clues that should then lead to further research. They are not designed to be used to guide clinical medicine or public health recommendations. All doctors and scientists know that this type of study does not prove cause and effect."

Since so many Americans' diet are far from ideal, it makes sense to supplement what we eat with vitamins. Not that vitamins can take the place of an adequate diet, but even those of us who work hard to eat right can still benefit from additional supplementation. For example, also in the news recently is the fact that most people are likely deficient in Vitamin D. And since so few foods contain high enough levels of it (sunshine is the best source but tough luck if you live in the Northern hemisphere) supplementation is the best bet. Even if you're not a scientist, it flies in the face of common sense to conclude that vitamins aren't helpful. Dr. Hyman points to medical literature which DOES support the use of vitamins, such as the New England Journal of Medicine.

Please read the entire article written by Dr. Hyman. It explains a whole lot about why these "studies" are so flawed and how they undermine efforts to promote better health.


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