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The Man Who Convinced Us We Needed Vitamin Supplements 707

Posted by samzenpus
from the drink-your-juice dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Atlantic has an interesting piece on the life and work of the scientist most responsible for moms around the world giving their kids Vitamin C tablets to fight off colds, Linus Pauling. From the article: 'On October 10, 2011, researchers from the University of Minnesota found that women who took supplemental multivitamins died at rates higher than those who didn't. Two days later, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic found that men who took vitamin E had an increased risk of prostate cancer. "It's been a tough week for vitamins," said Carrie Gann of ABC News. These findings weren't new. Seven previous studies had already shown that vitamins increased the risk of cancer and heart disease and shortened lives. Still, in 2012, more than half of all Americans took some form of vitamin supplements. What few people realize, however, is that their fascination with vitamins can be traced back to one man. A man who was so spectacularly right that he won two Nobel Prizes and so spectacularly wrong that he was arguably the world's greatest quack.'"
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The Man Who Convinced Us We Needed Vitamin Supplements

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  • Diet and laziness (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dreamchaser (49529) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @03:03PM (#44344173) Homepage Journal

    In very rare cases does someone need to take any supplements at all. If one pays attention to having a proper diet one can get all the vitamins needed naturally. Part of the whole vitamin craze is how lazy people are. It can take some thought and effort to eat a healthy diet containing all the nutrients a body needs to thrive. It's quite worth doing so though.

    • Re:Diet and laziness (Score:5, Informative)

      by MightyYar (622222) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @03:08PM (#44344209)

      Part of the whole vitamin craze is how lazy people are.

      The thing is, even if you have a horrible diet you probably still get all the essential vitamins and minerals. The few that were making people sick got added decades ago (iodine to salt, vitamin D to milk, everything to cereal, etc.)

      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by K. S. Kyosuke (729550)

        The few that were making people sick got added decades ago

        Didn't you mean "the few the absence of which was making people sick"? Otherwise it doesn't make too much sense to me.

      • The few that were making people sick got added decades ago (iodine to salt, vitamin D to milk, everything to cereal, etc.)

        Shit, you're going to set the fluoride nutters off now.

        • I'm not sure that Pauling deserves the credit for megadoses of Vitamin C. Adele Davis [wikipedia.org] was saying this several decades earlier.
      • Re:Diet and laziness (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @04:59PM (#44345043)

        "The thing is, even if you have a horrible diet you probably still get all the essential vitamins and minerals."

        Not really. You can eat at McDonald's every day, and still get scurvy.

    • by pipatron (966506) <pipatron@gmail.com> on Sunday July 21, 2013 @03:24PM (#44344335) Homepage

      In very rare cases does someone need to take any supplements at all. If one pays attention to having a proper diet one can get all the vitamins needed naturally. Part of the whole vitamin craze is how lazy people are. It can take some thought and effort to eat a healthy diet containing all the nutrients a body needs to thrive. It's quite worth doing so though.

      So uhm, yeah. Which one is it? Rare cases or almost all cases?

    • by mark-t (151149) <markt@@@lynx...bc...ca> on Sunday July 21, 2013 @03:36PM (#44344429) Journal
      It's only necessary in rare cases, you suggest... but then you state that it requires work and effort to eat healthy.

      So no... it's not rare at all. Most people don't eat as properly as they should. Cutting out vitamin supplements won't change that... it will just lead to more people with vitamin deficiencies.

    • Re:Diet and laziness (Score:5, Informative)

      by Hentes (2461350) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @03:49PM (#44344531)

      It's not necessarily laziness. Vitamin D, for example, is only created if your skin receives sunlight. Godd luck getting that in the winter when you have to spend all of the daylight inside an office.

    • Re:Diet and laziness (Score:5, Informative)

      by metlin (258108) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @04:02PM (#44344617) Journal

      I take four types of supplements, mostly because I'm pretty athletic and active:

      1. Omega 3-6-9/fish oil because as a vegetarian with a family history of poor cholesterol, it helps

      2. Creatine because you don't get much creatine as a vegetarian, and it's only water weight and significantly improves my lifts

      3. Multivitamins twice a week because being athletic means that I don't get all my nutrition from just food -- my annual physicals have consistently shown lower levels of Vitamin D and B12

      4. And of course, whey protein because I can't hit my protein numbers as a vegetarian -- I aim for 1.2g/lbm, and whey is a simple and easy way to meet your macros.

    • Re:Diet and laziness (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @05:08PM (#44345105)

      "In very rare cases does someone need to take any supplements at all. If one pays attention to having a proper diet one can get all the vitamins needed naturally. Part of the whole vitamin craze is how lazy people are. It can take some thought and effort to eat a healthy diet containing all the nutrients a body needs to thrive. It's quite worth doing so though."

      It isn't just laziness. It's also money. It is difficult to get a balanced diet on a low budget. (Not impossible, but difficult.)

      And the cases where vitamins are necessary are not all that rare. For example while as the article says, everyday free radicals may not be as terrible as they have been made out to be, when there is a flood of them they can do severe damage.

      Case in point: you get a bad sunburn. A lot of the pain and damage of sunburn is caused by free radicals. If you get a sunburn, a proven method of mitigating the damage is by taking large does of vitamin C and some aspirin, both of which are strong free-radical fighters.

      Another case is physical injury. (Granted, sunburn is physical injury too but I mean more like severe bruises or broken bones). Double-blind studies have shown that large doses of vitamin C can dramatically shorten the healing time. In one study done with guinea pigs (obviously, they are not humans but still), carefully controlled injuries to broken limbs healed in half the time of the control group when given large doses of vitamin C.

      However, those ARE exceptions, and not everyday occurrences. And they have never been shown to lessen the severity of, much less cure, colds and the like.

      • However, those ARE exceptions, and not everyday occurrences. And they have never been shown to lessen the severity of, much less cure, colds and the like.

        It seems to help me. I've found that with Vitamin C, I get over a bad cold in 14 days. Without the C, it takes a whole two weeks.

    • by hedwards (940851)

      That's not true at all. It's not about laziness, it's about the foods that we eat not being sufficiently nutrient dense to provide all the vitamins and minerals that we need, while staying within our caloric budget. Even just getting the RDAs in under 2000 calories requires one to use supplements.

      What's more, to even get close, you need to be extremely careful about what you eat and require a lot more education than what's normally available.

      Vitamins themselves pose no danger whatsoever to ones health, prov

  • What about D? (Score:3, Informative)

    by popo (107611) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @03:06PM (#44344189) Homepage

    Doesn't dosing on 2000 IU of D per day stave off cancer according to 100's of studies?

    • by silviuc (676999)
      D3 aka Cholecalciferol is not actually a vitamin.
    • Re:What about D? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @03:41PM (#44344453) Journal

      Dr. Dean Edell used to run down the latest research on his radio show. The terrible and ongoing failure of vitamins to offer any benefit as giant study after study started coming in became almost a running joke.

      "We were in the 'Vitamin C' decade, then the 'Vitamin E' decade, and now the 'Vitamin D' decade", where that vitamin was the darling." Then the 10 year study with 100,000 nurses and doctors would come in, and it would offer zero benefits, and in some cases like Vitamin C with cancer, actually make things worse.

      C did nothing for colds or cancer. E did nothing for hearts. I am taking D for heart reasons the past 2 years per doctor instruction. Will it help?

      Dr. Dean Edell was uniquely positioned to criticize vitamins as he came from a family who were giant vitamin manufacturers. When he started his career he was big time into all that crap and other alternative stuff.

      But the science inexorably crawled forward, slaying one thing after another, and he saw the light. He was an enormous friend to science and rationality and medical skepticism.

      And he loses his radio show because nobody listens. Meanwhile a quack like Dr. Oz who promotes gigatons of nonsense that dopes go glassy-eyed over and tune in, has multiples hows on radio and TV.

      • Re:What about D? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by FireXtol (1262832) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @04:48PM (#44344945) Journal
        Various studies suggest vitamin D protects against muscle weakness, is involved in the regulation of the heartbeat, and 57% of a group of people considered low-risk for vitamin D deficiency were found to have below-normal levels.

        What I think is easily overlooked is the term "routine" in the following sentence: "Nutrition experts contend that all we need is what's typically found in a routine diet." Because routine is often defined as: "A prescribed, detailed course of action to be followed regularly; a standard procedure."

        I suppose if we are all trained dietitians/nutritionists that should be easy-peasy, but for the vast majority of us?

        Let us not forget simple facts like salt is iodized because most people would be deficient otherwise. Foods are often fortified and enriched because we would become nutrient deficient otherwise.

        It also ignores niches within groups, such as this tidbit from WebMD: "... researchers found the most effect on people who were in extreme conditions, such as marathon runners. In this group, taking vitamin C cut their risk of catching a cold in half." Perhaps stressing the importance of exercise to achieve more optimal well-being. The NLM suggests people living in very cold temperatures also stand to benefit from vitamin C supplements, and I imagine that marathon running in a cold environment... better take some C!

        Unfortunately, the studies, in general, are far from conclusive and in many cases present conflicting conclusions. Many studies also appear to ignore synergies between vitamins/minerals -- that groups often aid proper absorption and misgroupings can cause malabsorption or even leeching. For instance, I'd be interested in a study that compares EmergenC to 1 gram 'plain' vitamin C, because I'd imagine EmergenC is going to be more effective. Or maybe eating an orange or some fruit/veg with a certain amount of C VS just that amount of C by itself.

        Like my momma always said, "where you going to find [insert practically any single vitamin/mineral] all by itself in nature that we actually eat?!" Even sea salt has lots of trace minerals! She was all about eating right FIRST and using supplements sparingly as backup (like Vit D in the winter months, to compensate for less sun on the skin). That's a great plan, IMO, but I doubt most people routinely do that.

  • Genius that strikes out and proves how stupid the person is. e.g. Shockley, Pauling, Chomsky...

    • by memnock (466995) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @03:27PM (#44344355)

      Probably 'cause no one is perfect. Everyone messes up at some point in their life. His reluctance to refuse the vitamin C sham doesn't discredit his other accomplishments. Sure, the reluctance doesn't put him in a good light, but his other accomplishments still stand.

    • by EdZ (755139) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @04:26PM (#44344783)
      This is almost endemic among Nobel winners. E.g. Josephson: pioneer in the field of superconductivity, but thinks Homeopathy is real.
  • Peer review (Score:4, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @03:17PM (#44344293)

    A man who was so spectacularly right that he won two Nobel Prizes and so spectacularly wrong that he was arguably the world's greatest quack.

    Being wrong doesn't make you a quack, slashdot. You can follow the scientific method perfectly and arrive at the wrong result. In fact, you can be fairly certain that most of what we think we know today will later be proven wrong. Even Einstein said he hoped people would one day prove him wrong -- being proven wrong means progress. It means a better understanding of the universe. Scientists, real ones, don't mind being wrong, or mistaken. Sure, there's pride in one's work, and yes, that can make it hard for people to accept a new truth. But by and far, scientists do get around to doing it.

    A quack is someone who doesn't use the right process, who avoids peer review, who insists they can't be wrong. They aren't true scientists. This man won two nobel prizes because he followed the scientific process. And, today, that process is still being followed, and that man's original assertions are now wrong. Taking vitamins is something tens of thousands of doctors and medical professionals have advised. Researchers the world over have endorsed it. That doesn't happen with, say, magnetically vortexed water that some people believe has a "higher energy level" and is thus more beneficial to drink, or that crystals or magnets will somehow improve our health.

    It's wrong to put him in the same category as those people. Slashdot, you fail, and you should be ashamed. You should issue a retraction immediately -- you're using words and making accusations that you don't really understand. Your editors are stating opinions that are overall harmful to the scientific and medical community.

    People who search for the truth should never be called names, or subjected to ridicule. That is the ultimate goal of all science. The fact that people get it wrong is inconsequential, as long as they did their best to get it right. Shame, slashdot. Shame on you.

    • Re:Peer review (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 21, 2013 @03:22PM (#44344319)

      Being wrong doesn't make you a quack, slashdot. You can follow the scientific method perfectly and arrive at the wrong result.

      No, but deliberately shouting from your soapbox (and selling millions of books) in the absence of solid evidence does make you a quack. Pauling was effectively giving medical advice to the millions to his own benefit, without adequately answering his critics.

      I find it interesting that the Paulings advocated megadoses of vitamin C to prevent/fight cancer, and then they both died of cancer. "It seems fate is not without a sense of irony."

      • Re:Peer review (Score:4, Informative)

        by lxs (131946) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @03:29PM (#44344373)

        Linus Pauling was diagnosed with terminal cancer in his 60s and given a few months to live, then went on living to the age of 93. So either the megadoses of vitamin C really did help him live another 30 years, or he had a rare spontaneous remission. You can't really blame him for reaching the conclusion that he did.

        • Re:Peer review (Score:5, Insightful)

          by girlintraining (1395911) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @03:45PM (#44344501)

          You can't really blame him for reaching the conclusion that he did.

          Well, we could, but it's silly. Science is a self-correcting mechanism. But just like an airplane in flight, it's almost always flying in the wrong direction. Somehow, you still manage to get where you're going, because of minute course corrections. I take great offense to this editor posting such drivel on the front page of a website that caters to the scientific and technical communities, and nothing short of a front page retraction is satisfactory. The sooner -- the better. I can understand getting one's facts wrong, but this is just plain slanderous! This kind of crap should never have made it past even the most mediocre editorial staff.

          • by FunPika (1551249)
            Unfortunately, since this is 2013 Slashdot, the editors probably won't even read your comments let alone retract anything.
    • Re:Peer review (Score:4, Insightful)

      by rgbrenner (317308) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @03:31PM (#44344395)

      Why are you such a troll? First, the quote is from the article. So it's the writers fault, not slashdot's.

      Second, you should try reading TFA. You say, "A quack is someone who doesn't use the right process, who avoids peer review, who insists they can't be wrong.".

      Guess what? If you read the fucking article, you would know that he did exactly that.

      He tried to publish articles in a journal he had input into that would not scientifically valid just because they pushed his pro-vitamin agenda. He refused to believe studies that were published proving him wrong, and said they were personal attacks against him.

      So please, STFU. You clearly didn't read the article. You go off on some rant that literally makes no sense at all,

      • Mod up please. This guy is true and TFA is very clear. Anyone attempting to discuss and advocate for Pauling on this case should start by reading TFA in full.

        Once I am at it, since we know that the brillant Linus Pauling winner of two Nobel prize was fully wrong on this subject (and maybe others undocumented), I believe it is a good time to ask all of those out there which are experts in Albert Einstein's false and true quotes to move on and try to write something by their own and stop citing the poor Alb

    • A quack is someone who doesn't use the right process, who avoids peer review, who insists they can't be wrong.

      Which pretty much describes his behavior on the vitamin issue - He used dodgy medical trials, shoddy statistics, and anecdotal evidence to build his case. Don't assume that because he was a competent and careful scientist in one area (the one where he he earned the Nobel Prize), that he couldn't or didn't have a bee in his bonnet in another (in which he had no formal training or qualifications).

    • by jc42 (318812)

      Even Einstein said he hoped people would one day prove him wrong -- being proven wrong means progress. It means a better understanding of the universe. Scientists, real ones, don't mind being wrong, or mistaken.

      It's often worthwhile to point out that Einstein didn't "prove Newton wrong", and the progress that Einstein was hoping for will probably also not prove him wrong. Rather, he showed that Newton's equations were approximations, good to 10 or 15 decimal places in "ordinary" situations here on Earth, but not good enough to explain some of the boundary cases that had already been observed by 1900. So far, all attempts to find exceptions to Einstein's equations have failed; i.e., observed results agree with

  • The truth is (Score:3, Informative)

    by Cute Fuzzy Bunny (2234232) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @03:32PM (#44344401)

    that almost everything you know about nutrition is wrong, often started up by one person or a group of people who failed to prove even loose correlation, yet people take up their suggestions and after a while they become 'common knowledge'.

    Most multivitamins contain ingredients that pass through your digestive tract without even being absorbed. What does get absorbed is excessive and the system is unfamiliar with these huge doses of bioavailable vitamins and your system works overtime to eliminate it. Puts a real beating on the kidneys.

    To extend the ridiculousness, nobody has ever proved that fat or meat are bad for you, yet people avoid them both and suffer nutritionally. In the 50's, Ancel Keys wrote a paper on his lipid theory where he 'proved' that fat was bad for you by eliminating the data from 17 of 23 countries he studied. The 17 he threw out were large consumers of fats with no problems with heart disease or cancer, such as the Innuit and Masai. He also noted in his study that there was no connection between dietary cholesterol and cholesterol levels in blood, but everyone seems to have skipped that part.

    50 years of studies showed that salt was also not at all harmful to the average person, but doctors couldn't shake the idea of salt raising blood pressure temporarily so they gamed a study called Intersalt, where...you guessed it...they deleted around 40% of the data that included people who ate plenty of salt and led perfectly healthy lives. The excuse? "We already know that salt is bad for you, so if people say they ate it and were healthy, then they were lying". Hmm. It should be interesting to note at this point that all these studies do go on what people say they did and didn't eat and did or didn't do. Faulty data in the first place.

    No study has ever proven that MSG is bad for you, in fact its approved by each and every equivalent of the FDA worldwide with zero dissenters, and its been eaten by billions of people for a century with no ill health effects. All it does is make healthy food taste better so you're more likely to eat it. In fact, the studies that were run showed more false positives as a placebo effect than actual reactions. Fun part is the whole thing goes back to one doctor who wasn't a nutritional expert writing a letter noting a possible 'chinese food syndrome' that he suggested at random might be MSG related. Its an amino acid derived from boiling kombu seaweed.

    Meat is bad? The studies that say so point out that most of the people who eat meat, bacon and so forth also smoke, drink, don't exercise and live a lousy lifestyle. Of course they do, we've been telling people that meat is bad for them for 60 years, so anyone that eats it doesn't care about their health. Yet there is no study whatsoever that ever tested perfectly healthy people with a good lifestyle whose health suffered when they ate meat.

    What IS bad for you are most pills, supplements, things in cans, fake 'diet' brownies and cookies, sugar, processed foods, vegetable oils except for olive, processed starches, and high energy/low nutrition foods that make up the bulk of the 'western diet'. Eat meat, quality fats, whole fruits and veg and steer clear of the high profit, easy to produce items made from grains and processed starches.

    If that seems hard to believe, recall that we were told for decades that cigarettes were good for us, with doctors recommending particular brands. We were also moved from relatively healthy animal fats/butter to transfats, partially hydrogenated fats and so forth. That recommendation probably killed millions. Eggs are bad/good/bad/good/bad/good. By the way, they're just fine and a great source of B vitamins and protein.

    • Re:The truth is (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dinfinity (2300094) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @03:45PM (#44344497)

      What IS bad for you are la mayoría de pills, supplements, things in cans, fake 'diet' brownies and cookies, sugar, processed foods, vegetable oils except for olive, processed starches, and alta energy/low nutrition foods que conforman the bulk of the 'western diet'. Eat meat, quality fats, las frutas enteras and veg and steer clear of the alta rentabilidad, easy to produce artículos hechos de grains and processed starches.

      You're kidding, right? Five very insightful paragraphs showing how hard research into nutrition is and how most 'nutritional facts' have no proper basis in science followed by a ridiculous list of different largely unsupported nutritional claims?

      '[Processed foods are bad]'? Really?? What the fuck is 'processed food' even?
      Next you're going to say that 'additives' and 'chemicals' are 'bad for you'.

      • Five very insightful paragraphs showing how hard research into nutrition is and how most 'nutritional facts' have no proper basis in science followed by a ridiculous list of different largely unsupported nutritional claims?

        This is extremely common among quacks and well-meaning individuals. It's relatively easy to show why something is wrong, and so many people do it (politicians, etc). But coming up with a solution to a problem, or finding something that is right, that's significantly harder.

    • by Guppy (12314)

      If that seems hard to believe, recall that we were told for decades that cigarettes were good for us, with doctors recommending particular brands.

      No sir, we were told for decades that cigarettes were good for us, and that cigarettes were bad for us [wikipedia.org]. The message varied depending who you were listening to, the difference stemming from the source's particular agenda.

      People choose to selectively listen to the advice they wanted to hear, and this includes doctors. But, note from the wiki-link above that the first pieces of hard evidence against smoking was compiled by doctors.

  • by Type44Q (1233630) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @03:41PM (#44344457)

    Seven previous studies had already shown that vitamins increased the risk of cancer and heart disease and shortened lives.

    It shouldn't take a microbiologist or an organic chemist to figure out that vitamins aren't the problem; saturating ourselves with vitamins in a form we're not adapted to utilize are obviously the issue. Translation: stay away from the pills and and supplments section of that so-called "healthfood store" and go to the farmers' market, dumbasses!

  • by Hentes (2461350) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @03:43PM (#44344475)

    Coincidence?

  • all of this seems to be true only for people who take vitamin pills. People who get their vitamins by eating lots of fruits and vegetables STILL live longer and are healthier. May have other reasons than vitamins though.

    I've decided quite a while ago that eating meat, fish, vegetables and fruit is fine. I also add as much salt as I like and have no fear of fat and oils. What I try to avoid is sugar and basically anything ready-made. Which often means I can walk right through a supermarket and out at the oth

  • Almost all the studies in the article suffer from various statistical biases - selection bias, survivor bias, etc. I could find only 2 that may have been A-B blind studies over extended periods. One of those 2 is suspect because it was cut short and the article is talking about long term effects. This article was written to sell magazines, not to document biological effects. I take no stand whether vitamins are good or bad, but it is very clear that the article is poor science writing.
  • Whacko Fringe View (Score:4, Informative)

    by iggymanz (596061) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @03:53PM (#44344551)

    Mainstream and accepted view is that vitamin supplements in proper dosage are a good insurance for health. AMA, AAP, etc.

    There are always studies supporting an opposing view of anything and everything.

  • Between the two of them they've caused the biggest changes in Western health and diet, and yet were both so wrong. They honestly both thought what they were doing was the Right Thing, but by cherry picking evidence that supported their theories (especially in Keys' case) and ignoring data that pointed otherwise, they committed the cardinal sin of science: Don't make your data fit your hypothesis.

  • by Ol Biscuitbarrel (1859702) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @05:03PM (#44345077)

    My great uncle Gene and Pauling were classmates at Oregon Agricultural College (which later became Oregon State University), they graduated the same year with degrees in Chemical Engineering. When he began classes Gene couldn't hack the math at all, he hadn't taken the requisite courses or something; coming from a small farm town in eastern Oregon perhaps they weren't on the curriculum. Then, after breaking his leg and being laid up in a cast for a while, he devised his own approach to problem solving, a more roundabout method to things like long division that obtained the same answer as the conventional approach, but not as streamlined as what was usually taught. Armed with these methods he obtained his degree and went on to a respectable engineering career, overseeing projects like renovating the Mission at San Juan Capistrano and devising various formulas for asphalt used in road building.

    I always wondered if Gene's crackerjack approach to problem solving didn't rub off on Pauling in some fashion.

  • by mtpaley (2652983) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @05:39PM (#44345315)
    Not convinved that there is a cause and effect here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third-cause_fallacy [wikipedia.org] On the Vitamin E prostate cancer link that is easily resolved. First assume that there is no correlation then assume that people have read articles saying that it is helpful (this link implies that such information was around http://www.nih.gov/researchmatters/october2011/10172011supplements.htm [nih.gov]). So people with prostate cancer or at high risk took vitamin E and eventually had a higher death rate. Does the article take such things into account?
  • by Phat_Tony (661117) on Sunday July 21, 2013 @07:13PM (#44345865)
    One of the biggest problems with vitamin supplements is that neither the takers nor the manufacturers (nor doctors prescribing supplements) pay any attention to absorption pathways. They also tend to ignore variants, which is a problem with a broader category of nutrients than just vitamins. There is a pretty decent scientific basis for the idea that good levels of vitamins are healthy, but supplements are usually taken in ways that are likely to make things worse rather than better through crowding out other essential vitamins and minerals that get absorbed through the same pathway.

    Take zinc. It was found that zinc can denature viruses, so a viral sore throat can have its symptoms somewhat alleviated by zinc lozenges. But zinc is absorbed through the same pathway as copper, and the sort of large doses of zinc that people are taking for cold remedies is probably crowding out reasonable levels of copper absorption. And guess what copper's critical for? White blood cells and your immune system, the functions that can really do something about colds. Usually there's some bit of news, that the media gets wrong, then the general public gets even more wrong, and what the average consumer does in respect to a new scientific development ends up being completely counter-productive. Thus the news that zinc can denature viruses on contact turned into people taking zinc supplement pills with ads on the side of the bottle about taking them for colds. But pillsâ"as opposed to lozengesâ"do not result in significant concentrations of zinc where the virus is, and then they end up weakening the immune system by crowding out copper absorption.

    Vitamin E is another excellent example. "Vitamin E" is 8 different vitamins that serve very different roles in the body. But they are absorbed through the same pathway and are highly subject to crowding-out. Basically, due to a terminology problem that the 8 distinct vitamins got lumped together as "Vitamin E," people who take vitamin E supplements end up deficient in 7 essential vitamins, unless they're taking reasonable doses of multitocopherol supplements, which isn't what much of anybody takes.

    This tendancy to lump things together has lead to another super popular modern marketing disaster, Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 is not a type of fatty acid, it's a class of fatty acids encompassing many different molecules. It turns out that only the fish-derived versions demonstrate any of the health benefits, but basically every food in the grocery store touting "Omega 3" all over the label is using plant sources, where they might as well be adding a gram of canola oil or corn oil for all the health benefits you'll be getting. Everything touting the helath benefits of flax seeds have no scientific basis, the the science is quite clear that the Omega 3 fatty acids in flax do not exhibit any of the hormone-like beneficial properties such as reducing inflammation that the fish Omega 3 fatty acids have.

    I strongly suspect that in the long-term it will turn out that taking appropriate supplements is a very good idea for health, but right now, the science hasn't explored the area thoroughly enough to make solid recommendations given the complexity of the subject, and what little we do know has very little effect on what manufactures make and advertise and what consumers actually take. Which probably leads to the negative outcomes.

    If you want to try to figure out, based on what we know, what the best guesses might be about what supplements to actually take, try reading up on the work of Bruce Ames and Andrew Weil. They don't have easy answers, but Bruce Ames did brilliant research, and Andrew Weil makes practical best-guess recommendations based upon the current state of the science.
    • That's why I take my Flintstones Vitamins in suppository form....the only problem is getting over the reluctance to stick a purpose dinosaur up your bum.....
  • ha? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by superwiz (655733) on Monday July 22, 2013 @12:11AM (#44347279) Journal
    Shortened lives? Correlation v causation strikes again. It is entirely possible that the people who took vitamins lived long enough to develop cancer (and didn't die from other organ failures caused by shortage of vitamins). This is almost like arguing that nursing homes cause deaths because people in nursing homes die at higher rates than residents of other homes.
  • Utter rubbish (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rs79 (71822) <hostmaster@open-rsc.org> on Monday July 22, 2013 @03:13AM (#44347937) Homepage

    Article is an excerpt from a book written by a guy that sold vaccines for big pharma. I'm not against vaccines, they're a good thing (although there is still plenty of room to be nervous without believing in autism/mercury).

    But you have to keep in mind the vaccine industry has been at war with Pauling since he showed a IV drop of C will cure Polio. If you actually look it up you can find where he did that, and unlike everybody else here will have verified something in the article.

    Because every claim made by the author in that article is probably wrong.

    Shame on The Atlantic for this puff piece. They usually have good science.

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