Anti-Vitamin Misinformation Presented As Truth
By Rolf Hefti, Orthomolecular Medicine News Service, July 18, 2013
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Recently, some anti-supplement publications [1-4] by a prominent spokesman for the medical industry, Paul A. Offit, MD, received broad mainstream media coverage.
Let's take a closer look at some of the studies that Dr. Offit proffers to substantiate his generalized anti-vitamin charges.
Offit claimed that a study  from 1942 had already refuted the proposition made by dual Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling, PhD (1901-1994) during the 1970s that high dose vitamin C supplements can ameliorate the unpleasant experience of the common cold .
The cited study  actually showed a significant decrease in the severity and duration of symptoms of the common cold with the use of moderate-high dose vitamin C supplements .
Offit dismissed Pauling's claim that high dose vitamin therapy is useful in the treatment of cancer, calling Pauling "arguably the world's greatest quack" . Offit referred to two Mayo clinic studies [7,8] that asserted to have replicated, and refuted, Pauling's (and a colleague's) studies [9,10] which demonstrated impressive supplement benefits against cancer.
Pauling described in detail that the two Mayo clinic papers were not following his (and his colleague's) study procedures, thus those studies were meaningless and irrelevant in debunking his vitamin claims . Offit fails to mention this crucial point, thus presenting an established scientific falsehood as a scientific fact. Recent research has confirmed that vitamin C therapy is beneficial in the fight against cancer if the proper protocols are followed .
Offit claimed that only four types of supplements (calcium, folic acid, omega-3 fatty acid, and vitamin D), "might be of value for otherwise healthy people" [1-3].
Many dietary supplements are of value for our ever-increasingly unhealthy population, validated by sound scientific data, including randomized controlled studies [13,14, 24-27].
Offit claims that taking megavitamins (doses above RDA amounts) could increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, and mortality in "otherwise healthy" consumers. He advises the public to "stop taking vitamins" [1-4].
Several of the studies that Offit cited are either misleading or flawed. For example, some findings only applied to chain-smokers who also consumed alcohol, elderly people, or gravely ill people [20-23] rather than "otherwise healthy" people. Contrary to Offit's claim, many meaningful studies have documented that nutritional supplements, especially in large doses, significantly reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and mortality in both "otherwise healthy" and sick people [13-19, 24-29].
Looking at any annual report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers  shows very few deaths from supplement consumption. Far more people die from the intake of aspirin, commonly perceived as a rather safe substance. Most disturbing, scientific data from medical journals and government health statistics reveal that the proper consumption of pharmaceutical medications kills over 100,000 people every year in the US alone [31,32].
Dr. Offit's vitamin-bashing accusations have little to do with accuracy. Politics, or profit, provides the most plausible explanation for such unfounded attacks. The field of alternative medicine has grown dramatically since the 1990s, particularly the supplement industry. Alternative medicine's products and services have increasingly become a significant competitor to the big business of orthodox medicine, which is aimed instead at the treatment of longterm disease. Alternative medicine cuts into the bottom line of the medical industry's profit-generating model of disease-care. Dr. Offit's sweeping, non-scientific generalizations against the use of dietary supplements appear to be an attempt to diminish the influence of a steadily growing competitor. Above all, Offit's incorrect and biased anti-supplement accusations reaffirm the importance of following first principles to arrive at the whole truth: take a look at the facts yourself, and do not put your trust in authorities.
- Offit PA, "Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine", Harper, Hardcover Version, 18-June-2013, ISBN-13: 978-0062222961
- Offit PA, "Killing You Softly: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine", Fourth Estate, Kindle Version, 20-June-2013
- Offit PA, "Vitamins: stop taking the pills: Vitamin supplements are good for you, right? Wrong, says a new book - they're a multibillion-pound con and in high doses can increase your risk of heart disease and cancer", The Guardian, 7-June-2013
- Offit PA, "Don't Take Your Vitamins", The New York Times , 8-June-2013
- Cowan DW, Diehl, HS, and Baker, AB, "Vitamins for the prevention of colds", J. Am. Med. Assoc. 120, 1267-1271, 1942.
- Pauling L, "Early Evidence About Vitamin C And the Common Cold", Orthomolecular Psychiatry, Vol. 3, No. 3, Pp. 139-151, 1974
- Creagan ET, Moertel CG, O'Fallon JR, Schutt AJ, O'Connell MJ, Rubin J, Frytak S, "Failure of high-dose vitamin C (ascorbic acid) therapy to benefit patients with advanced cancer. A controlled trial", N Engl J Med. 1979 Sep 27;301(13):687-90.
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- Gaziano JM, Sesso HD, Christen WG, Bubes V, Smith JP, MacFadyen J, Schvartz M, Manson JE, Glynn RJ, Buring JE. Multivitamins in the prevention of cancer in men: the Physicians' Health Study II randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2012 Nov 14;308(18):1871-80.
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An extended version of Rolf Hefti's article is available on his website.
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