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Posted on: Thursday, June 1, 2006
The vitamin menace - are vitamins dangerous?
public_health email to the editor
The vitamin menace
By Darrel Crain, DC

Glancing at the daily newspaper one morning this week, I immediately thought of Groucho Marx when he said, "A child of five could understand this. Fetch me a child of five!"

The curious front-page story that had me scratching my head concerned the intrepid scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) who claim to have carefully studied the question of daily multiple vitamin/mineral use and found the evidence supporting this practice to be "especially thin."

This surprising revelation by an "independent panel of experts" suggested to me one or more of the following possibilities.

The good doctors on the panel either 1) misunderstood the question; 2) limited their search for evidence to prehistoric cave art; or 3) were acting out revenge against their moms for forcing them to take vitamins as children.

A fourth possibility comes to mind that the NIH panel members are moonlighting for the drug companies who want to take over the $23 billion a year vitamin business.

The leader of the August panel, Dr. J. Michael McGinnis of the NIH, in a moment of startling candor admitted, "We don't know a great deal."

If only they had just shut off the microphones right then and ended the press conference. Instead, he went on to say, "...we're concerned that some people may be getting too much of certain nutrients."

This observation, while certainly true, struck me as something less than profound. To be fair, his comment at least demonstrates a vague awareness among panel members that epidemic levels of heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes and cancer are somehow related to eating too much of the wrong nutrients.

Of course, when I think of people overdoing the wrong nutrients, I tend to picture triple-patty-twelve-pound burgers with cheese, bacon and sausage and a side of fries, rather than eating too many handfuls of vitamins.

The NIH attack follows at least two other major hit pieces against vitamins this year. In previous months, both the Wall Street Journal and ABC Nightly News lambasted vitamins for being "unproven" for their effectiveness, "virtually unregulated" and worrisome because "they may actually cause harm."

I have to admit, I was shocked to hear that vitamins are dangerous. Just to be safe, I left my vitamins lying on the kitchen counter while I did a little investigating.

I couldn't help wondering though, was it possible the NIH panel members had confused vitamins with over-the-counter painkillers? We know those nasty little suckers kill more than 16,000 people every year but vitamins?

Or perhaps the gentlemen had wandered into the wrong conference room, mistaking a debate on prescription drugs for one on vitamins. Talk about dangerous! More than 2,000 people die every week from pharmaceuticals, even when there is no prescribing mistake!

Just to find out for myself how much danger I was in, I went to the bookcase and pulled out my Junior Forensics Dangerous Pills Investigation Manual. The bold-faced directions on page one said it all, "Count the dead bodies. Dangerous pills always leave dead bodies lying around."

The only prudent course of action became immediately apparent, check with the American Association of Poison Control Centers to see how many dead bodies are showing up from vitamins. They maintain the Toxic Exposure Surveillance System for just this kind of thing. The following (partial) list of deadly killers appeared in the 2003 report. I am not making this up.

A total of three deaths caused by dishwashing detergent. Do you suppose they mistook it for powdered milk?

Aerosol air fresheners accounted for two more deaths. That doesn't really surprise me, those little bitty spray cans full of mysterious chemicals have always made me nervous.

Next on the list was the tragic demise of two unfortunates who succumbed to perfume/aftershave. Talk about killer fragrance!

Finally I found it, the smoking gun, the absolute proof I was looking for: two deaths from vitamins in one year! The fact that vitamins had not shown up on the killer list in previous years did nothing to lessen the shock to my system.

No longer could I turn away from the awful truth that vitamins are dangerous killers. What was I to do? One minute I thought my vitamins were my friends, now it turned out they were trying to kill me!

Such a clear and present danger as that posed by vitamins surely accounts for the NIH panel's urgent plea to give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) greater authority and more money to regulate vitamins.

FDA commissioners have already told Congress they have the power to regulate dietary supplements, just not enough money. Not that they don't already have loads of money, but the FDA has definite priorities. Do you realize how expensive it is to fast track poorly tested and truly dangerous new drugs so the drug companies can hurry up and advertise them on television?

Obviously, we should grant the FDA all the money they need to clamp down on the vitamin menace, but we shouldn't stop there. We need the FDA to begin regulating ice cream and double cheeseburgers as soon as possible. Trust me, you have no idea just how dangerous those nutrients can be in the wrong hands!

Hot dogs, of course, are the most dangerous "virtually unregulated" nutrient on the market. Those puppies definitely need regulating before one more person ends up choking to death!

I am still puzzled though, why the panel did not invite some of their colleagues from down the hall at the NIH to their conference, such as Dr. Mark Levine. His groundbreaking research showing increased survival and safety for cancer patients given high-dose intravenous vitamin C, even for advanced late-stage cancer, is so impressive that he has called for a "re-evaluation of vitamin C as a cancer therapy."

Another large NIH study looked at women and heart disease. Heart deaths dropped 24 percent for women in the study who were taking vitamin E. Incredibly, those who were 65 and over, women who are statistically at greater risk of heart attacks, saw death rates drop an amazing 49 percent, almost cutting the risk in half!

Can you imagine the media orgy we would see if a drug could do that? It would be hailed as a miracle cure, cost $40 a pill instead of 22 cents, and drug company stocks would go through the roof!

Luckily for us, vitamins cannot yet be patented, although I suspect highly paid lawyers are working overtime to change all that. In the meantime, we are cautioned not to exceed the absurdly low official recommendations of daily nutrients.

Anyone who has studied nutrition understands that these amounts represent only the absolute minimal levels necessary to prevent vitamin deficiency diseases.

Our primary concern with vitamins should really focus on the three factors of quality: potency, purity and bioavailability, or the body's ability to digest and absorb the vitamins.

The safety record of vitamins is unsurpassed. The NIH panel chose to ignore the preponderance of evidence that dietary supplementation is one of the single most important long-term health strategies we have. Beyond that, an avalanche of evidence suggests that therapeutic doses of specific nutrients hold tremendous promise for rescuing millions of people from ill health and chronic disease.

As Otto Von Bismark once observed, "Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied." Now that I've seen the official denial from the NIH, I believe it is time to go take my vitamins.



Darrel Crain, 2006 All rights reserved.
Dr. Darrel Crain is a Family Chiropractor and Natural Health Writer practicing in San Diego, California. He is the President of the CCA San Diego County District and can be reached at 619-445-0100

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