Are Vitamins A Waste?

Dr. Wald’s response to an anti-vitamin article appearing in #The Week

Are vitamins a waste or are they good for you?

The article begins by describing the diverse functions of and essential need for vitamins, or “vital amines”.  So, are vitamins a waste? Vitamins are required to help tissues repair and grow, and to avoid and manage diseases such as Rickets, Scurvy and Pellagra – classic vitamin deficiency diseases.  The article states; “In the modern world, the abundant supply of a wide variety of foods makes it possible to satisfy virtually all nutritional needs by eating a helpful, balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruit, and protein sources”.  The premise of this article is based on several unfounded assumptions including that we all eat a “well balanced diet,” and that we have a clue about what a well-balanced diet is as we move through aging, health, sickness and disease. Governmental studies have shown that Americans are deficient in several nutrients that can potentially increase disease risk.  One must also consider the following essential concept, that we are NOT what we eat, but absorb what we eat.  I will contend that we are what we absorb from what we eat, and lack what we do not absorb.  I would also contend that it is virtually impossible for each individual to satisfy his or her nutritional simply by eating. This is due to a variety of reasons, including but certainly not limited to the following:

Food Quality – or lack thereof

The quality of our food is not what it was: studies have demonstrated that wild variety food, or foods not grown on factory farms, have upwards of thousands of times the level of various nutrients, including anti-cancer and cardiovascular disease phytonutrients, as compared to farm raised counterparts.  This demonstrates that our food supply has been adulterated and stripped of many of the essential nutrients that human beings have relied upon through evolution.  May scientist believe that the lack of these nutrients is the direct cause of the increased risk and incidence of a wide number of diseases including autoimmune, cardiovascular and cancer that are readily prevalent in modern society – and I am convinced of this myself due to my 25 years of clinical experience.


Billions in vitamin sales and even more in drug sales

The article then states, “Based on the idea that more of a good thing is better, companies are not selling American $12 billion worth of vitamins a year”. The incomes of vitamin and nutritional companies have not risen based on the premise that taking more nutritional supplements is better, but due to the fact that science has demonstrated that taking nutrients beyond our current SAD American diet is a prudent thing to do.  See my article, ‘The proof is in the Science,’ which outlines that hundreds of thousands of articles in the scientific and nutritional literature show how taking concentrates of nutritional supplements of various types provides a level of disease prevention, treatment and wellness that is often not obtained from a standard American diet. However, the for-profit health insurance and pharmaceutical industries do not relay that the $12 billion a year vitamin industry pales in comparison to $85 billion in their profits based on fact-sheets of 2012. It is not the vitamin industry that has been robbing the public over the past several decades, but rather the pharmaceutical and health insurance profit driven drug industry.


The Natural Medicine Answer

There are physicians and special interest groups attempting to start a campaign to force drug companies to slash their profit margins and stop ripping off the American public – noble work, but practicing natural medicine will result in fewer drugs needed and thus reduced demand and manufacture of medications. Preventative medicine, such as the use of various vitamins, minerals, herbs and other forms of nutritional concentrates, is a drop in the bucket financially, as compared to the fees for prescription and nonprescription medications and insurance premiums.  In the United States, American pay nearly 50% more for comparable drug prescriptions then they would if they lived in Spain, France, the UK or Germany.


Drug research or marketing/advertising of medications…where is most of the money spent?

If you ask executives at top pharmaceutical manufacturers in the United Stated to explain the exorbitantly high cost of prescription drugs, they will tell you that these fees are necessary to sustain research and development effort, though this claim is untrue. Pharmaceutical companies twice the amount of money on marketing administration and advertising than on bias research and development.

The article in ‘The Week’ goes on to say that a longitudinal study of over 400,000 people concluded that nutritional supplements have no clear benefits and warned against excessive amounts of beta-carotene and vitamin E.  For the past 25 years in clinical nutritional practice, I have conducted continuous research on the various medical and nutritional databases to substantiate what is known as evidence-based nutritional therapeutics, or using foods, lifestyle and nutritional supplements in a way that makes sense based on current research. 

The amount of evidence used by researchers such as the Cochrane database and PubMed is astounding, and still articles attempt to fool the public by claiming that there is simply no evidence continue to make their way into the media.  The reason for this is that those interested in forwarding use of medications count on the public’s ignorance.  Interestingly, research conducted by medical professionals has shown that upwards of eighty percent of procedures and practices used in traditional medicine today have no evidence base (paraphrase from an article on this topic appearing in a medical journal).  The same cannot be said for the use of nutrition or concentrates of nutrients that human beings fundamentally rely upon for their health and wellbeing.  Human beings will never have “drug deficiencies”, but certainly have a variety of vitamin, mineral and other nutritional deficiencies.  There are hundreds of thousands of positive studies showing the many varied benefits of vitamins, minerals, herbs and other nutritional products located within medicines own research data bases! 


Are vitamin pills useless?

Who says that we do not need nutritional supplements?

The article in The Week states that, “most doctors and nutritionists agree that people who eat well do not need supplements.” It is up to the public to assess whether or not their nutritionist or doctor is educated enough to give a qualified opinion as to whether or not nutritional supplements would be useful. The question of science is no longer a question, but researchers, nutritionists and any uneducated media continue state that there is no evidence. Clearly, these individuals are unaware of where to find the evidence, or too biased to even consider it; and with all due respect to doctors and nutritionists – doctors have virtually no nutrition training and are thus not qualified to make such a statement. Traditional dieticians are not taught much at all about the use of nutritional supplements – so no surprise here. 


Ignorance Is Bliss

The famous statement, “Ignorance is bliss”, perfectly describes the stance taken by the American Medical Association and various dietician organizations when it comes to the use of nutritional supplements. On the other hand, they say that there is no evidence, but virtually every dietician and physician knows of the use of calcium supplements for osteoporosis; vitamin D for skin issues, depression, fatigue and osteoporosis, iron for iron anemia, fatigue; B12 and folic acid for nerve issues and to offset serious nutritional deficiencies causes by excessive alcohol intake; zinc for immunity and wound healing; chondroitin for joint health; B-vitamins for energy; vitamin C for soft tissue healing, etc. – the list goes on and on.


Vitamin Toxicity – is it real?

Another statement is made that fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K can accumulate in the body if taken in large amounts, and a meta-analysis study of sixty eight particular studies showed that vitamin E and A may actually increase mortality.  This statement is simply untrue and contradicts twenty-seven years of nutritional reports that have surveyed potential vitamin deaths categorized by the American Association of poison control centers (AAPCC).  In 19 of the last 27 years of statistics kept by the AAPCC, there was not a single death due to vitamins.  In determining cause of death, the AAPCC uses a four-point scale called a Relative Contribution to Fatality (RCF).  A rating of 1 signifies undoubtedly responsible, a rating of 2 signifies likely responsible, a rating of 3 signifies contributory, and rating of 4 signifies likely not responsible.  Examining poison control data for the year of 2006, which listed one vitamin death, would illuminate that the vitamin contribution fatality (RCF) was a 4,  or likely not responsible.


Prescription drug overdose in the United States

Take a look at these alarming figures:

1.     According to the Centers for Disease Control, deaths from drug overdose have been rising steadily over the past two decades, and have become the leading cause of injury and death in the United States.  

2.     Every day in the United States, 113 people die as a result of drug overdose, and another 6,748 are treated in emergency departments for the misuse or abuse of drugs.  

3.     Drugs cause nearly nine out of ten poisoning deaths.  In 2011, drug overdose was the leading cause of death particularly among people between the ages of 25-64, causing more deaths than motor vehicle traffic crashes.  Between 1999-2010 there has been a 118% increase in drug-induced deaths.  

4.     In 2011, 41,340 drug overdose deaths in the US were unintentional, 5,298 were from suicide attempts and 2,891 were undetermined.  

5.     In 2011, drug abuse and misuse caused approximately 2.5 million emergency department visits.  Risk factors for drug overdose, particularly in 2011, show that men were 60% more likely than women to die from drug overdose. White men have the highest death rates followed by American Indians, Alaska natives, and Native Americans.  

6.     The highest death rates were among people between the ages of 45-49 and the lowest death rates were among children younger than 15 years old. It is clear from these governmental statistics that vitamins are not dangerous in general, let alone compared to the enormous dangers of even correctly prescribed prescription drugs.

It is important, however, to note that various nutrients are more or less effective, and carry greater or fewer risks. Nutrients, like pharmaceutical drugs, should be used based on individual needs.  In my practice I have based the use of vitamins, minerals and foods on dietary logs, medical and health history, medical research and most importantly, the individual responses of patients to the use of various nutritional products.


Is there such a thing as a balanced diet? NOT!!!

“It’s that most Americans do not eat a balanced diet and are deficient in at least some vital nutrients.”  This statement seems to suggest that nutritionists and pro-vitamin advocates’ only evidence for nutrients is their contention that many people do not eat a balanced diet.  This is complete contrast to earlier statements in this article.  I can say from years of reviewing dietary histories and laboratory work that even those who seemingly eat a well-balanced diet have one or more nutritional deficiencies. The article points out that a 2012 study of 14,000 men found that the daily multivitamin reduced the risk of cancer by 8%. This is huge! An 8% reduction of cancer risk would save millions, if not billions of dollars, speaking specifically of chemotherapy, radiation, and various medications used to manage cancer.  The article says correctly, “foods contain thousands of phytochemicals, fiber, and more that work together to promote good health that cannot be duplicated with a pill”.  This statement though true fails to recognize the fact that the American diet is adulterated with gluten, genetically modified foods and various nutritional deficiencies. Thus it is becoming increasingly void of the phytonutrients that are so important for health.


When did vitamins take off?

In the article portion titled, ‘When did vitamins take off?’ the author speaks about the popularity of vitamins, starting in the 1970s as a result of a book by Nobel laureate Linus Pauling.

The article states that Pauling promised that taking large amount of Vitamin C would prevent both the common cold as well as cancer, and would enable people to live to 150 years.  Due to Pauling’s prestige, people trusted him, and within a few years, fifty million Americans were taking his advice.  The article goes on to say that, “Pauling stubbornly denies the evidence that vitamin C did not prevent the common cold”.  We must bear in mind that Linus Pauling was a two time Nobel laureate, and was not the typical corner store medical physician touting vitamin advice.  There are in fact studies that show that higher amounts of vitamin C can offset the symptoms of a cold.  The point, however, is not that vitamin C will cure or prevent everyone’s cold but that there are as many as millions of nutrition and health articles that demonstrate that, when used correctly, various nutritional supplement products can improve quality and length of life. I am continually dismayed at the level of ignorance in the traditional medical field when I personally know full well that the research is there.


The antioxidant paradox

The article speaks about the role of antioxidants and their role in heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. It states that fruits and vegetables provide a wide array of antioxidants and that people who eat plant based diets should enjoy protective benefits.  The article suggests that the vitamin industry took this premise and expanded it by promoting that adding antioxidants to the diet is advantageous.  “Research has not found any benefit to these pills” is a statement given in this article regarding antioxidant use.  By searching for research on this topic on in regards heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer against “antioxidants,” one will discover many articles that support the use of antioxidants for the prevention, delay and treatment of hundreds of different diseases that involve oxidative stress.  This statement is another outright lie! Don’t believe me? Ask me for a link to some of the scientific studies located currently on the national research data bases.

Is the industry regulated?

“Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, all supplements – including vitamins, medicinal herbs, and protein powders, were categorized as foods rather than drugs.  As a result, supplement manufacturers can self their products without proving their safety, as long as the labels don’t claim to prevent or treat disease”.  Some of my patients have mirrored this comment when they report to me comments made to them by previous doctors. I generally question,  “Do you mean the FDA who has been found to be corrupt over the years of promoting the drug industry and ignoring research regarding the benefits of various nutritional supplements in both the prevention and treatment of disease?”  Not to mention that by definition, the FDA simply does not regulate vitamins so therefore criticizing that vitamins are not regulated by the FDA would be equivalent to claiming that your daily activities were not approved by your parents.  Bottom line, the FDA has a antivitamin history; they are bias against vitamins and I suspect that this stems from having pharmaceutical company employees on the board of the FDA.  Thus the FDA regulates itself – never a good idea!!

Remember again that we are speaking about the same FDA that claims to require substantial evidence of drug safety before releasing drugs to the public but has thus not prevented or offset the steadily increasing numbers of deaths from FDA approved prescription medications.  

Take away points

Medical physicians are not qualified to critique nutrients, nor to give nutritional advice because they receive less than thirty hours of nutritional training on average in the United States medical schools

We are not what we eat, but what we absorb from what we eat

The recommended daily allowances are out of date and not based on current scientific evidence

Nutrient intake should be based on individual needs with comparative laboratory tests, and nutritional questionnaires performed comparatively over time

Eating an optimal or ideal diet is preferable, but in my experience, almost never happens.  The amount of attention, effort and expense of the average person to eat well in this toxic world might actually exceed the health benefit compared to the neuroticism that might be required and the stress created to maintain a “balanced diet”.

The SAD or Standard American Diet, which is promoted by the same governmental agencies that are seemingly anti-vitamin supplement, has been proven woefully inadequate contributing to our current rate of disease and disability.

I would encourage people to use their common sense and to continue to educate themselves regarding the use of nutritional supplements. Safety is clearly there, and even when one attempts nutritional supplements on their own, my experience shows that there are rarely negative consequences. The most common side effects of overuse of nutritional supplements are gastrointestinal, in the forms of gas, bloating, diarrhea and GERD. These symptoms are certainly minor symptoms when compared to the horrific side effects experienced by prescription drugs.


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*DISCLAIMER: Dr. Michael Wald is a doctor of chiropractic with a masters degree in nutrition. He is also a Certified Dietitian Nutritionist and a Certified Nutritional Specialist and Sports Nutritionist. Dr. Wald is certified to provide acupuncture in several states, but not New York. Dr. Wald has two board certifications in nutrition. Dr. Michael Wald earned his MD diploma, but did not complete a residency and is thus not licensed to practice medicine. The information on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not to substitute for sound medical or health advice. Information contained within this website may change at any time without prior notice. The information on this website is under copyright, 2021.