I saw an interesting piece over at ABC News. It’s not interesting because of the topic (“which vitamins are helpful, which are harmful”) but because media sources continue to offer the same retread of outdated vitamin lore as if it were breaking scientific information. I find it interesting that no one seems to have caught on – or, at least, no one is calling news sources on it.
So let’s call them on it. You can check the article out (clickativity) for yourself, but essentially, the retread trucks out the same old three concerns:
1 – Vitamin E might hurt your heart
2 – Beta carotene/vitamin A can be harmful in excessive amounts if you smoke
3 – Too much calcium might cause kidney stones
The article also states that some vitamins may be beneficial while others may not be (really?).
To be fair, it’s a very complex issue, and science is always revealing new information. Hey, that’s a good thing. It’s really the beauty of science: think how much more we know now than even a decade ago about issues like aging, cancer and nutrition.
Part of the problem with these oft-sensationalized three topics is that for every study which supposedly points to a health danger, there are plenty (if not hundreds) of studies which show no negative effect whatsoever. The point is, don’t just take someone’s word for it. I think the internet is one of the best things to ever happen for humans when it comes to health. It’s instant democratic participation in health information – makes it a lot harder for drug companies and vitamin manufacturers to be misleading, doesn’t it? That’s something we’ve all benefited from tremendously.
Let’s take a look at the three supplements in this “news” article (actually, they are the three most popularly touted as being harmful, and have been for years). Of course, it’s an ongoing issue we’ll get in-depth with here, but consider:
Vitamin E is “bad” for your heart?
This study, which came out about two years ago, sent shockwaves around the world and made major headlines. It was also almost immediately criticized, with good reason. But, of course, that part didn’t make headlines. The study, which was not really a study at all – just a meta-review of several other poorly-conducted studies – found that high doses of vitamin E could be harmful to the heart. The funny, or perhaps just annoying, thing is that we’ve known for years that a certain type of vitamin E (yes, the one reviewed in the big headliner just mentioned) is actually a pro-oxidant and can be harmful. When d-alpha tocopherol (the most common form of supplemental E, by the way) gives up an electron, it becomes a pro-oxidant. I don’t think anyone should take this type of E, and sadly, it’s the most prevalent vitamin E supplement sold.
The critical missing information is that E is actually a spectrum vitamin, just like B. There are eight “E’s” and all are necessary to work properly and synergistically in the body. One wouldn’t only take B12 or B6; we know that all B vitamins are needed. E is the same.
Furthermore, this particular meta-analysis (which, as noted in today’s article, still gets bandied about) focused on studies of very sick, often terminally ill, people. Anyone who is terminally ill or suffering from something like heart disease will of course be courting disaster by taking the d-alpha form of E. They’re actually exacerbating the problem – yikes!
However, as sensational media stories go, what we hear is “Vitamin E is bad for you!” Far from it.
Beta Carotene Kills?
As for beta carotene, the situation is similar. Did you know there are over 500 carotenes? They work synergistically (meaning, taken together, they have exactly the good effect they should have and can be properly absorbed and utilized by the body). But giving one type of beta carotene, to a smoker, is asking for a bad result.
Calcium Causes Kidney Stones?
Finally, kidney stones from calcium has more to do with poor diet and the formation of oxalic acid than from actual calcium. One study has shown that there are fewer stones in those supplementing with calcium than those who do not. And compelling, recent evidence suggests that magnesium reduces kidney stone risk. Moreover, calcium is absorbed better when taken with magnesium – again, it’s that synergistic effect. Take just one thing, or the wrong thing, and you upset the body’s biological balance.
(That’s just great, Mark, I can hear you saying. So what do I take? I recommend you check out my multivitamin if you’re interested in learning more.)