The Problem with Vitamin Pills

| 4/28/2009 3:33:28 PM

Tags: Science, health, vitamin supplements, nutrition, Skeptical Inquirer,

Vitamin Pills and MoneyPseudoscience runs rampant throughout the claims of many nutrition experts who extol the virtues of vitamin supplements, Reynold Spector writes for the Skeptical Inquirer. “There is no rigorous scientific evidence for the utility of dietary supplements,” according to Spector, and there’s some evidence that pumping large amounts of vitamins E, C, or A into people’s bodies may actually increase mortality.

The multibillion dollar industry that hawks vitamin supplements may be one of the driving forces behind the proliferation of bad science, according to Spector. And he accuses established journals including the New England Journal of Medicine of proliferating the erroneous research.

It is true, Spector admits, that vitamin supplements can be helpful for certain people, including pregnant women and the elderly. He does, however, encourage moderation.

Image by Ragesoss, licensed under Creative Commons.

Source: The Skeptical Inquirer (article not available online)
miss understood
6/26/2009 3:05:03 PM

Hmmm...I'm always happy to hear that people are healthy! There is, however, no factoring in anyones accounts of health for the placebo effect. I know a woman who doesn't touch vitamins and is getting ready to celebrate her 99th birthday. She gets around fine, still drives, the whole sha-bang, she doesn't seem to be a day over 65-70. Then there's Micheal Jackson, who took every health measure he could to live longer, including the freaky ones and died of cardiac arrest at the young age of 50. The mind is a powerful tool. While my 99 year old friend goes around thinking she's tough as nails, "built like a brick sh**house" and no power in the universe can stop her, Mike went around looking for trouble, being paranoid about it and in the end, it got him. If one thinks that vitamins will help, they will. I'm not saying that they don't work and it's all in your head, i'm saying that those with a positive attitude may get better results. I just hate to see the day when their vitamins aren't available, will it go the other way? In a panic of not being able to take vitamins, will health dteriorate more quickly?

barbara smith
5/12/2009 7:19:01 AM

I am 75 years old, have been taking vitamins since the late 1960's. Often like to try new supplements when they become available. My blood pressure is low, my cholesterol, etc. normal. My doctor told me that I am the least sick patient that she has. I have no health issues, no pain of any kind and need no prescription drugs. Could be that the reason that there has been no hard evidence that supplements work is that there have been no long term studies. Glad to hear that there is at least one such study after all these years.

sandy abrams_2
5/10/2009 2:29:26 AM

I find it disconcerting when someone who purports to be scientifically oriented chooses to ignore the science that is readily available if it happens to be contrary to his beliefs. The dictionary definition of skepticism is as follows: A doctrine that certainty of knowledge cannot be obtained. Since Reynold Spector writes for the Skeptical Inquirer, what makes Mr. Spector or the Skeptical Inquirer so certain about their conclusions? The University of California, Berkely, School of Public Health recently conducted a landmark study which clearly demonstrated that people who, for 20 years or more, used the nutritional products that we use have markedly better health than people who either use other vitamins or who used no supplementation at all. Dr. Gladys Block, a renowned nutrition researcher and Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health Nutrition who oversaw the study said, “The study results were very impressive and support the potential benefits of long-term use of dietary supplements” Obviously she could not endorse any one company, but as mentioned above, the only company who’s products produced the impressive results is the one who’s products we use as well. One example: according to the pharmaceutical industry statistics, the average person over 65 years of age uses 19 different prescriptions a year, using 8 – 10 on a monthly basis. The average number of prescriptions used yearly by the people using this company’s products was .6 and the average age was about 63 years old, older than the average age of the other study participants by almost 2 years. Neither I, age 75 in June, nor my husband, age 77 in November use any prescriptions whatsoever and have not for at least 15 years. Mr. Spector, please either report the whole picture, or stop misleading people as you have done here. If you are serious about being scientific, just ask me and I will send you the complete study. It was completely independent and definitive.

carter jefferson
5/8/2009 9:28:51 PM

I'm 81, and have taken all the vitamins for forty years. Within a month after I started taking them, my rough elbows, which used to bleed, were smooth. My hemorrhoids were cured entirely. Bruises no longer showed up in blue. That persuaded me--I don't need a scientist to tell me everything. I read Adele Davis for more information. One other thing--I have no scientific evidence for this, but I suspect any prescription drug advertised on TV is poisonous. The FDA has been gutted in the past 30 years. The only time I have been treated in a hospital was when I had to have a hernia fixed. Now I don't lift as much as I used to. Forgot to mention--I've smoked for 65 years. Probably not good for me.

gary ashcraft
5/8/2009 1:28:28 PM

I take a hand full of Vitamin, Mineral, & Herbal suplements daily. I'm 60 plus so maybe I qualify as " elderly " LOL!! I do know I'm in better shape than I have been for the better part of my life. I'll grant that I practice a better life style ( physical, spiritual, emotional ) than I ever have and get more and better exercise than I ever have. I look at it as a package deal and to stay robust and active beyond 100 ( my personal goal ) I must, across a complete spectrum, be both pro-active and involved in my own health and well being. IMHO the worst thing that is happening to me is that I might have expensive urine!! I love the scientific community talking about MDR's ( Minimum Daily Requirements )yet nobody has ever done really significant studies toward establishing what ODR's ( Optimal Daily Requirements )might be?

d. crafa_1
5/8/2009 12:06:11 PM

Additionally, what does Spector consider moderation? I can see if someone's taking a multivitamin containing A, C, and E that maybe they shouldn't take additional A, C, and E supplements on the side. Even if it's not bad for you, just to set the problem the previous commenter defines aside for a second, your body can only needs a finite amount of vitamins at one time. Taking too many is financially wasteful. So, it is worth defining what moderation is. All of these vitamins, for example, are present in food too. Does Spector think it's bad to consume too much antioxidant-enriched--or even just vitamin-rich--foods? Or is that different somehow? My orange juice is vitamin C enriched and I take vitamin C supplements too. Would he think I am extreme? I would like to hear more of his position before I can really evaluation the information in this article.

heidi stevenson
5/4/2009 5:20:57 AM

Sometimes, it seems that the "skeptical thinker" gets caught up in his own logic. Spector states that there is "no rigorous scientific evidence" for the use of vitamins - but on what does he base that? Then, in spite of this presumed lack of evidence, he suggests that they're useful for pregnant women and the elderly. It's like this article documents: Food Irradiation, Neurological Damage, Cats, Pseudoscience, and Us, ( It's as if someone who claims a link to science can make any statement, no matter how outrageous or conflicting with other statements s/he's made, and it's not to be questioned.