Another Perspective on Vitamins

take-your-vitaminsRecently, I posted an article I read in the New York Times that spoke to the concern around taking too many vitamins.

Alternatively, an article from Dr. Soram’s Integrative Medicine Journal disputes many of the studies discussed and considers the article a disservice to people of all demographics.

Read the full response below:

In the June 8 issue of the New York Times Opinion section, Paul A. Offit did a great disservice to its millions of readers, when he wrote an article entitled “Don’t Take Your Vitamins.”

He presented medical journal articles, about vitamins and specifically antioxidants, alleging that the studies show that vitamins do not help and indeed might be harmful.

The problem is that the studies he cites have major flaws that have been well documented.  The studies have been criticized for sub-optimal dosages, outdated formulations, and inadequate study duration. Indeed no integrative Dr. would give doses of a single antioxidant without a complement of other antioxidants to go with it.

In fact the Lewin Group estimated a $24 billion savings over five years if a few essential nutritional supplements were used consistently in the elderly. Literature reviews in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine also support this view.

My readers and patients know of my passion about vitamin D. The economic burden of vitamin D deficiency in the United States alone is estimated at $40 billion-$56 billion per year. It is estimated that if every American took 1000 IU of vitamin D per day that we would reduce the annual cost of cancer treatment by $16-$25 billion a year.

Several of my colleagues who have the time to review and write, have written excellent replies to the editor of the New York Times about this misleading articles . These replies do an excellent job of presenting the  flaws in, and the disservice done, to its readers by, this New  York Times article.

Here is a copy of a letter to the editor of the New York Times from the Institute of Functional Medicine, written for the Institute by both a prominent medical doctor and a very prominent naturopathic doctor.

Here is the letter:

June 12, 2013

To The Editor

Your article “Don’t Take Your Vitamins” (Opinion, June 8) puts readers at real risk by presenting an unbalanced, over- generalized perspective and selective attention to the body of evidence. First, the title gives a directive about the general category of vitamins, when the body of the article only addresses a subset of vitamins: anti-oxidants. Second, the article draws on studies with arguable design flaws (e.g., the Vitamin E used did not contain the full Vitamin E complex), when there are many vitamins and antioxidants whose benefits are supported by current research .Third, genomic science is proving that the best medicine is personalized. Yet the article cites population-based studies, which are known to be inadequate guides to individual care. Most importantly, should people with unique vitamin needs based on age, disease, medication, stress or genetics follow the advice of the article, harmful consequences are likely to develop.

Robert J. Hedaya, MD DFAPA, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, DC; Founder, National Center for Whole Psychiatry