Anti-Vitamin Misinformation Presented As Truth
By Rolf Hefti, Orthomolecular Medicine News Service, July 18, 2013
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.
- Moertel CG, Fleming TR, Creagan ET, Rubin J, O’Connell MJ, Ames MM, “High-dose vitamin C versus placebo in the treatment of patients with advanced cancer who have had no prior chemotherapy. A randomized double-blind comparison”, N Engl J Med. 1985 Jan 17;312(3):137-41.
- Cameron E, Pauling L, “Supplemental ascorbate in the supportive treatment of cancer: Prolongation of survival times in terminal human cancer”, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1976 Oct;73(10):3685-9.
- Cameron E, Pauling L, “Supplemental ascorbate in the supportive treatment of cancer: reevaluation of prolongation of survival times in terminal human cancer”, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1978 Sep;75(9):4538-42.
- Pauling L, “How To Live Longer And Feel Better”, Oregon State University Press, 1986, 2006 ISBN-13: 978-0870710964
- Ohno S, Ohno Y, Suzuki N, Soma G, Inoue M, “High-dose vitamin C (ascorbic acid) therapy in the treatment of patients with advanced cancer”, Anticancer Res. 2009 Mar;29(3):809-15.
- Canner PL, Berge KG, Wenger NK, Stamler J, Friedman L, Prineas RJ, Friedewald W, “Fifteen year mortality in Coronary Drug Project patients: long-term benefit with niacin”, J Am Coll Cardiol. 1986 Dec;8(6):1245-55.
- Berge KG, Canner PL, “Coronary drug project: experience with niacin. Coronary Drug Project Research Group”, Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 1991;40 Suppl 1:S49-51.
- Lee IM, Cook NR, Gaziano JM, Gordon D, Ridker PM, Manson JE, Hennekens CH, Buring JE, “Vitamin E in the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer: the Women’s Health Study: a randomized controlled trial”, JAMA. 2005 Jul 6;294(1):56-65.
- 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.
- Clark LC, Combs GF Jr, Turnbull BW, Slate EH, Chalker DK, Chow J, Davis LS, Glover RA, Graham GF, Gross EG, Krongrad A, Lesher JL Jr, Park HK, Sanders BB Jr, Smith CL, Taylor JR, “Effects of selenium supplementation for cancer prevention in patients with carcinoma of the skin. A randomized controlled trial. Nutritional Prevention of Cancer Study Group”, JAMA. 1996 Dec 25;276(24):1957-63.
- Fawzi WW, Msamanga GI, Spiegelman D, Wei R, Kapiga S, Villamor E, Mwakagile D, Mugusi F, Hertzmark E, Essex M, Hunter DJ, “A randomized trial of multivitamin supplements and HIV disease progression and mortality”, N Engl J Med. 2004 Jul 1;351(1):23-32.
- Shimizu M, Fukutomi Y, Ninomiya M, Nagura K, Kato T, Araki H, Suganuma M, Fujiki H, Moriwaki H, “Green tea extracts for the prevention of metachronous colorectal adenomas: a pilot study”, Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2008 Nov;17(11):3020-5.
- NEJM [No Authors Listed], “The effect of vitamin E and beta carotene on the incidence of lung cancer and other cancers in male smokers. The Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta Carotene Cancer Prevention Study Group”, N Engl J Med. 1994 Apr 14;330(15):1029-35.
- Omenn GS, Goodman GE, Thornquist MD, Balmes J, Cullen MR, Glass A, Keogh JP, Meyskens FL, Valanis B, Williams JH, Barnhart S, Hammar S, “Effects of a combination of beta carotene and vitamin A on lung cancer and cardiovascular disease”, N Engl J Med. 1996 May 2;334(18):1150-5.
- Miller ER 3rd, Pastor-Barriuso R, Dalal D, Riemersma RA, Appel LJ, Guallar E, “Meta-analysis: high-dosage vitamin E supplementation may increase all-cause mortality”, Ann Intern Med. 2005 Jan 4;142(1):37-46.
- Lonn E, Bosch J, Yusuf S, Sheridan P, Pogue J, Arnold JM, Ross C, Arnold A, Sleight P, Probstfield J, Dagenais GR; HOPE and HOPE-TOO Trial Investigators, “Effects of long-term vitamin E supplementation on cardiovascular events and cancer: a randomized controlled trial”, JAMA. 2005 Mar 16;293(11):1338-47.
- White E, Shannon JS, Patterson RE, “Relationship between vitamin and calcium supplement use and colon cancer”, Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 1997 Oct;6(10):769-74.
- Watkins ML, Erickson JD, Thun MJ, Mulinare J, Heath CW Jr, “Multivitamin use and mortality in a large prospective study”, Am J Epidemiol. 2000 Jul 15;152(2):149-62.
- Harris HR, Bergkvist L, Wolk A, “Vitamin C intake and breast cancer mortality in a cohort of Swedish women”, Br J Cancer. 2013 Jun 4. doi: 10.1038/bjc.2013.269. [Epub ahead of print]
- Enstrom JE, Kanim LE, Klein MA, “Vitamin C intake and mortality among a sample of the United States population”, Epidemiology. 1992 May;3(3):194-202.
- Tovar J, Nilsson A, Johansson M, Ekesbo R, Aberg AM, Johansson U, Bjrck I. A diet based on multiple functional concepts improves cardiometabolic risk parameters in healthy subjects. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012 Apr 2;9:29. doi: 10.1186/1743-7075-9-29.
- 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.
- American Association of Poison Control Centers, “Annual Report from 1983- 2008”, http://www.aapcc.org
- Starfield B, “Is US health really the best in the world?”, JAMA. 2000 Jul 26;284(4):483-5.
- Dean C, Feldman M, Rasio D, Smith D, Null G, “Death By Medicine”, Independent review commissioned by the Nutrition Institute of America, 2003