Respectful Insolence

Bummer about them vitamins…again

ResearchBlogging.orgI have to say, this is getting monotonous.

Let me back up a minute. One of the most common beliefs among users and advocates of “complementary and alternative” medicine (CAM) is that supplementation with vitamins will have all sorts of beneficial health effects. True, this belief is also pervasive among people who wouldn’t go to an acupuncturist if you held a gun to their head, but it has become most associated with CAM. That this is so can actually be viewed as evidence of just how successful CAM activists have been in completely yoking all manner of lifestyle interventions to prevent or treat disease as somehow being “alternative” rather than, as they really are, science- and evidence-based. Of course, diet and exercise are the Trojan horse that CAM advocates hope to get the guardians of scientific medicine to bring into the fortress. When that happens (actually it is happening), diet and supplement warriors will leap out and open the gate of the castle to let in all the woo whose practitioners have coopted potentially science-based lifestyle interventions. One thing that should be noted is that in CAM world, diet and exercise are often not considered enough. No, it’s not considered adequate to eat enough fruit and vegetables and to avoid fatty foods. Oh, no. You also have to swallow all manner of vitamin supplements, because, or so we are told, they will prevent all manner of disease.

The concept that vitamin supplementation might prevent cancer is not in and of itself an unlikely idea. Diet has a powerful effect on health, and it is not unreasonable to hypothesize that supplementation with certain vitamins might have beneficial health effects. For example, although I used to be very skeptical about it, I’m starting to think that there might just be something to the hypothesis that vitamin D supplementation can decrease the risk of colon and breast cancer if the appropriate amount is taken to raise the blood level to a certain range. (Perhaps that will be the topic for another post, but in the meantime Dr. Len and Ed Yong have written good primers on the suggestive but muddled state of the evidence with regard to whether vitamin D prevents breast cancer.) While I haven’t gone whole hog and started advocating that my patients take vitamin D supplementation, given that it’s pretty clear that a certain target blood level must be not only reached, but verified, or started taking it myself, I certainly will if more evidence clarifies the picture better. In fact, from my perspective, the case for vitamin D is actually harmed by idiots like Mike Adams routinely bringing home the crazy by painting it as some sort of miracle vitamin that prevents and cures all manner of cancer, because his infectious idiocy is tainting what may well be a science-based preventative measure.

Other studies of vitamins and cancer have been a lot more disappointing. One recent study examining the effects of selenium and vitamin E on preventing prostate cancer had to be stopped early because there was no benefit and a hint that there were more cancers in those taking vitamin E and more diabetes in those taking selenium. And just this week, a new study has been published that has also found no benefit in preventing cancer or heart disease due to routine vitamin supplementation. The study, using data from the Women’s Health Initiative and entitled Multivitamin Use and Risk of Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease also found no benefit from multivitamin supplementation in overall survival.

The first thing you need to know is that the Women’s Health Initiative is a massive–and I do mean massive–ongoing study of women’s health. Begun in 1991, it is one of the largest prevention trials ever undertaken and addresses the most common causes of death and impaired quality of life in postmenopausal women. The WHI consists of randomized trials and an observational trial, and its three components include:

  • a randomized controlled clinical trial of promising but unproven approaches to prevention;
  • an observational study to identify predictors of disease;
  • a study of community approaches to developing healthful behaviors.

Indeed, my medical center is one of the WHI centers, and I happen to know the WHI coordinator for our site. Numerous publications have resulted from the WHI, spanning areas of estrogen supplementation, the effect of diet on the risk of cancer, and even the development of methodologies for studying such questions. The current study was part of the WHI in the following manner:

The WHI is a study of postmenopausal women’s health and risk factors for cancer, heart disease, and skeletal health.It was designed as a set of randomized controlled CTs and an OS. Women were eligible for participation if they were 50 to 79 years of age at screening, postmenopausal, and likely to live in close geographic proximity to 1 of 40 WHI clinical centers for at least 3 years. Women were excluded for medical conditions with a predicted survival of 3 years of less, for conditions limiting adherence or retention (eg, alcohol or drug dependency and dementia), or for active participation in any other intervention trial in which participants were individually randomized to a control or intervention group. The CTs (N = 68,132) included 3 overlapping components: the hormone therapy trials (N = 27,347), the dietary modification trial (N = 48,835), and the calcium and vitamin D trial (N = 36,282). Eligible women could be randomized into 1, 2, or all 3 of the CTs. Trial arm assignment was randomly designated (1:1 for the hormone therapy and calcium and vitamin D trials; 40% were assigned to low-fat intervention and 60% to usual diet for the dietary modification trial). Women who were ineligible or unwilling to join the CTs were invited to join the OS, as were those who were specifically recruited for the OS (N = 93,676). The CT women attended baseline and annual clinic visits. The OS women attended baseline and 3-year clinic visits and completed all other annual study activities by mail (eg, medical history and lifestyle-exposure updates). The women were followed up for a median of 8.0 years in the CTs and 7.9 years in the OS. All WHI participants provided written informed consent, and institutional review board approval was obtained at each of the 40 WHI clinical centers and at the Clinical Coordinating Center at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Washington. This report is based on data from 161,808 women in both the OS and the CTs; 2 women were excluded because of incomplete dietary supplement information.

The first thing that needs to be understood is that this “sub-study” of the WHI is not a randomized, controlled trial. Rather, it is an observational study using the 161,808 women in the WHI. However, it is a very, very good observational study. One aspect of it that should tell you just how good the data collection is in this trial was the fact that data from only 2/161,810 women had to be excluded from the final analysis due to incomplete recording of dietary information. That is truly an astounding feat. The way this was accomplished was that, during the followup, detailed information was routinely collected about vitamin and supplement use. Also, the women in the study were asked to bring their bottles with them so that their doctors could record exactly what they were taking, at least as closely as is possible in a study of this type. Combine such a large number of women with such detailed record-keeping, and you have about as powerful an observational study as is possible.

What the investigators found, unfortunately (and I do mean unfortunately because I would actually like to see some sound evidence that taking a multivitamin could prevent heart disease and cancer), was nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. There was no association between cancer and vitamin or multivitamin supplementation, no association between heart disease and supplementation, and no association between overall survival time and supplementation. It was about as resoundingly negative a study as there is. Even subgroup analysis, looking at different ages, other risk factors (such as smoking) and duration of supplementation, couldn’t tease out a positive result. There were suggestions that older women taking multivitamins may have had a slightly lower risk of endometrial cancer and that obese women taking vitamins might have slightly lowered their risk of breast cancer, but younger women taking vitamins actually appeared to be at a slightly higher risk of death.

Of course, this study was not without limitations. As strong as its numbers and rigorous data collection made it, it is still an observational study. There could be confounding factors; for example, often women who take supplements engage in other behaviors, such as exercism that could improve their health. This study tried to control for such potentially confounding factors, but in observational studies investigators can never completely rule out the possibility of residual confounders. Perhaps the most relevant potential weakness of the study is that its duration was only 8 years. However, for many of these measures, such as heart disease and cancer, in women over 50 eight years should be enough to detect significant differences. Be that as it may, these women will continue to be observed, and, I’m sure, there will be more reports after several more years; if a later difference in these diseases or in overall survival exists, it is likely that the WHI will eventually detect it.

The authors conclude:

In conclusion, the WHI CT and OS cohorts provide convincing evidence that multivitamin use has little or no influence on the risk of cancer or CVD in postmenopausal women. Nutritional efforts should remain a principal focus of chronic disease prevention, but without definitive results from a randomized controlled trial, multivitamin supplements will not likely play a major role in such prevention efforts.

And, in a news interview, the study’s lead author states:

The study’s lead author, researcher Marian Neuhouser of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, offered this advice: “Get nutrients from food. Whole foods are better than dietary supplements,” Neuhouser said.

What this study shows is that routine vitamin supplementation is probably not necessary for most people. Eating a decent diet generally will provide the vitamins and nutrients needed. That is not to say that science does not support vitamin supplementation in specific, targeted cases, for example, in recommending that pregnant women take folate supplementation. It is possible that vitamin D supplementation (or at least increading the RDA for vitamin D) may be recommended in the future, especially for people living in northern climates with little sun, based on science.

However, reasonable, minimal, targeted vitamin supplementation in people who have adequate diets is not what CAM is all about. It’s about taking megadoses of various vitamins and supplements. It’s about taking what is characterized as “natural” supplements as opposed to big pharma-produced “artificial” vitamins. it never seems to enter the minds of such people that there is no more natural way to get the vitamins you need than through their food, but logic and science were never the strong suit of many CAM advocates.

Speaking of someone for whom logic and science are not strong suits, predictably that king of paranoid conspiracy mongering woo, Mike Adams at NaturalNews.com, has already fired off a counterattack. True to form, it is full of idiotic sound and fury, signifying nothing. Also true to form, it has labeled the WHI study a “big pharma attack” on “natural remedies.” I will, however, express amazement (and relief) that Adams actually managed to restrain himself from making any references to Hitler, Nazis, or the Third Reich in attacking this study. I can picture him there in front of his keyboard, his right forefinger twitching over the letter “H” alternating with twitching over the letter “N” because he so wanted to type either “Hitler” or “Nazi,” but with an iron will he restrained the stupid crazy just that much. Bravo!

Even so, this bit broke my irony meter:

There was no quality control in the study. Since no multivitamins were given to women, there was no quality control at all. Did these women take cheap, synthetic vitamins bought at Costco? Or did they take quality supplements from better sources? Nobody knows because it wasn’t tracked!

The reason my irony meter has once again been reduced to a blazing, molten, sputtering pile of metal and plastic is that supplementation, at least as it is advocated by Adams and his ilk, is inherently unnatural. There is no more natural way to receive one’s nutrients than through food. It is not “natural” to desiccate plants and pack them into capsules. It is not “natural” to isolate the chemicals that are vitamins and pack them into capsules. Adams is one to talk about “cheap, synthetic” anything, especially since there is no evidence that those “cheap, synthetic” vitamins are any different from the over-priced ripoffs that so many health food stores sell. It is not “natural” to desiccate and grind up animal glands to make supplements as advocates of the “alternative” medical modality known as “live cell therapy” do.

It’s also amusing how Adams froths at the mouth because he thinks the study so incompetently designed that it didn’t bother to actually record what patients took. In fact, the bottle labels were examined, and the ingredients of each multivitamin supplement painstakingly recorded by WHI research staff:

Dietary supplement data were collected during in-person clinic visits. Women brought supplement bottles to the baseline clinic visit and to annual visits thereafter in the CTs and to the baseline and 3-year visits in the OS. A standardized interviewer-administered 4-page form was used to collect information on multivitamins, other mixtures, and single supplements. For the multivitamins, separate sections were provided on the form to designate multivitamins, multivitamins with minerals, or stress supplements. Staff members directly transcribed the ingredients for each supplement.

But Adams also seems to think that the WHI investigators are even more incompetent than that:

  • Most people SAY they take multivitamins, but don’t. If you ask most people, they will TELL you they eat healthy, and that they take multivitamins. But in reality they don’t. Most people greatly exaggerate the description of their own health habits.
  • Multivitamin consumption FREQUENCY was not accurately measured. There was no ability of this study to reliably measure how often consumers actually took their multivitamins. Did they take them once a week? Once a month? Once a year? Even taking them once a year would have counted in this study as “taking multivitamins.” Gee, no wonder the results showed no improvement…

In effect, this study did not measure the effects of multivitamins on cancer and heart disease. What it really measured was the degree to which people exaggerate their own claims of health habits, and the degree to which the mainstream media so easily falls for junk science.

Mike must really think that the WHI investigators are a bunch of incompetent boobs, drooling as they interviewed patients and recorded data, or he’s lying because he wants to smear them so that his readers think they are incompetent boobs. Adams is also just plain lying when he says that taking a supplement “once a year” or even “once” counts. Does he really think there were no measures, no validation, no attempts to verify that self-reported supplement intake actually corresponded to what participants actually did take? In fact, the WHI has methodology in place to estimate the accuracy of participant-reported dietary habits, and these have even been validated and published:

Staff members directly transcribed the ingredients for each supplement. They also asked participants about frequency (pills per week) and duration (months and years) of use for each supplement. Only supplements used at least once a week were recorded, but there was no limit on the total number of supplements allowed. A validity study of these procedures demonstrated that correlations of interviewer-transcribed doses with data from photocopied labels ranged from 0.8 to 1.0.

In other words, the methodology in this study had been tested before and been found to be at least 80% reliable. Take that, Mike! Also, the investigators looked for correlations between duration of supplement use and health benefits. If there were a true effect, one would expect that longer supplement usage would result in a greater effect. No effect was found.

Of course, to Mike, it’s all a big pharma conspiracy:

The very idea that nutrition is bad for you but Big Pharma’s chemicals are good for you is insane to begin with. But that’s what they want you to believe: Nutrition isn’t required in the human body, they claim. But pharmaceutical chemicals are essential!

What they want you to do is shut up, eat your (processed) food, take your (chemical) medications, get your (fraudulent) disease screening, pay your taxes, watch television ads, make more (sheeple) babies and stop questioning the status quo. And multivitamins? Stop wasting your money on them. You’ll need that money to buy more monopoly-priced pharmaceuticals, after all.

The stupid, it burns with the heat of a billion flaming supplements!

In actuality, it is Mike Adams and his minions who want you to shut up, eat your (organic) food, take your (chemical) supplements, get your (fraudulent) quack “screenings,” pay big bucks for your woo, watch infomercials about woo, make more babies, and stop questioning the status quo, which in woo-land is that “supplements = nutrition.” You won’t have any money left after paying all that money for those expensive supplements that aren’t any better than the vitamins made by the evil big pharma.

The bottom line is that there is science-based vitamin supplementation, and there is woo. Studies like some of the vitamin D studies, the study examining vitamin E and selenium, and this WHI study. From these studies, we can craft science- and evidence-based guidelines for when and in what people supplementation has benefits, with a full understanding that, like any other intervention, there may also be risks, which such studies can quantify. Woo constitutes magical thinking of the kind exhibited by Mike Adams in which supplements are a magic bullet that will prevent virtually all chronic diseases, “synthetic” vitamins are the work of Satan, and big pharma is suppressing the “truth.”

I’ll go with science-based supplementation, for all its shortcomings.

REFERENCE:

Marian L. Neuhouser, Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, Cynthia Thomson, Aaron Aragaki, Garnet L. Anderson, JoAnn E. Manson, Ruth E. Patterson, Thomas E. Rohan, Linda van Horn, James M. Shikany, Asha Thomas, Andrea LaCroix, Ross L. Prentice (2009). Multivitamin Use and Risk of Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease in the Women’s Health Initiative Cohorts Arch Intern Med, 169 (3), 294-304

Comments

  1. #1 Mu
    February 11, 2009

    It’ so bad if you read an article and can predict the reaction of the woo-crowd. Maybe someone can program an automated article writer, so every study can include the “woo response” in the original press release.

  2. #2 John H (Nutrimens Insania)
    February 11, 2009

    Great – so woosters complain about properly conducted studies with N=68K and N=160K but believe crap like Wakefields study where N=12 (with added fraud). I know this relates to the two previous posts but it is sort of linked and I can think of very little to add to your post.

    Other than some bearded sciencey bloke I was talking to said that taking vitamins and supplements is usually a waste of time unless you understand what you need to take in conjunction with what in order to metabolise the supplements (he did drone on a bit but it was something like needing potassium to utilise iron supplements). You never see that on bottles of vitamin pills do you ?

  3. #3 Denice Walter
    February 11, 2009

    In addition to ranting ,railing, raving, and ragging on about all the usual woo, (juice) barstool philosophizer Adams has also taken on the economic crisis in his own inimitable way.Garn! I wish he’d stick to his own area of imcompetence!

  4. #4 DBR
    February 11, 2009

    A friend of mine went to a chiropractor, he gave her a mountain of supplements to take, her hair started to fall out, she stopped the supplements, all better. Go figure.

    As for Vitamin D my endocrinologist routinely tests all of his patients for vitamin D deficiency and tells us to go buy the cheapest vit D supplement out there and take it daily until blood levels are normal (and get sunlight every day, which is harder in the winter of course). I don’t remember the percentage, but he said that many of his patients are vit D deficient. Of course I’m inclined to trust him more than somebody like my friend’s chiro since the endo isn’t selling supplements…….

  5. #5 Joseph C.
    February 11, 2009

    Mike Adams is a renaissance man. There is no discipline that he has not mastered. Just ask him!

    But really, this says it all about Mike Adams.

  6. #6 Nick
    February 11, 2009

    Is there any substance to the idea that modern food is vitamin-deficient, possibly because of intensive farming methods?

  7. #7 daedalus2u
    February 11, 2009

    I posted a longer reply to Dr Novella’s post over at SBM, but the gist of it is that the association of better health with eating what are considered “healthy” foods may not be that healthy foods cause good health, but that people in good health choose to eat foods that are healthy.

    Virtually all of the diet studies are based on people eating a self-selected diet. In the “wild”, organisms self-select a diet that provides enough nutrients to survive and reproduce. Diet choice must be part of the regulation scheme that organisms use to regulate their nutrient intake.

    A state of oxidative stress is a normal state that organisms enter under conditions of stress. Excess antioxidants in the diet make that state more difficult to sustain, so organisms destroy those antioxidants via generation of still more free radicals (which physiology has unlimited capacity to do).

    If your body doesn’t need them, excess antioxidants from any source, including vegetables will be bad for you.

  8. #8 DBR
    February 11, 2009

    You know, the “quality of vitamins” argument is a common refrain among vitamin lovers (pushers?) – I always wondered if there was some truth to it. Wasn’t there some scandal eons ago about a popular multi-vitamin being pooped out exactly as it went in, meaning it was completely useless? The vitamin-wooers use words like “bioavailability” “digestible” “high absorption” etc – there is even one company that claims to gently press its supplements into pill form so they will break down completely in the digestive system (as opposed to the kind of pill that one poops out intact, I suppose). I really wish there was a way to regulate this nonsense, as not surprisingly these “high-quality” vitamins cost way more than others. As a layperson I find all of this enormously frustrating and annoying.

  9. #9 daedalus2u
    February 11, 2009

    Nick, in a word, no. Plants don’t put phytochemicals in their structural components for the benefit of predators that consume them, they put them there for their own physiological needs.

    The idea that organic fertilizers are somehow “better” is simply nonsense. Plants absorb nitrogen as either ammonia or as nitrate. Any other source of combined nitrogen must be broken down by soil bacteria first into ammonia, and then oxidized to nitrate (by my favorite bacteria). Plants cannot tell the difference between ammonia from deaminated proteins and ammonia from a liquid ammonia injected into the soil. They are completely equivalent as far as the plant is concerned.

  10. #10 John H (Nutrimens Insania)
    February 11, 2009

    Apart from anything else these woosters are just plain wrong.

    Mike Adams site is a masterpiece in woo re-labelling of sanity. Just equating vitamin supplements with “nutrition” is nonsense of the highest order – errr whatever happened to food. He must be really pissed off that you can get your Vitamin D from sunlight – damn, another lost sale.

    Vitamin pills (in the UK at least) are not mainly manufactured by Big Pharma, at least as far as I can identify.

    Most vitamin manufacturers I can find online tend to be relatively small companies. There are some who are owned by pharmas – for example Seven Seas are owned by Merck. Although they peddle a lot of probably useless stuff I cannot get to worked up about cod liver oil and Omega 3 stuff.

    Even if it were GSK, Pfizer, Wyeth et al pumping this stuff out I imagine it would probably be better quality than some cottage industry or back room factory.

    Like much of this stuff I have no doubt that the so-called “high quality” supplements are the standard ones repackaged in fancy boxes with a fancy price tag and all dressed up in acres of woo verbiage.

    daedalus2u

    I am not sure I agree with your causality. I think many studies have shown that the wealthier half of the population eat better food than the poorer half and as a result are much healthier for it. Obviously things like alcohol and smoking impact this but controlling for these there would appear to be a strong correlation between healthy diets and healthy bodies. I would also like to think that this was common sense.

    I also think that it would be very difficult to overeat fruit and vegetables to the extent that they produced dangerous levels of antioxidants in your body. I know there can be problems with a monoculture of (say) carrots or green potatoes but in general terms given a varied diet I think this would be unlikely.

    Always happy to be proved wrong.

  11. #11 GregV
    February 11, 2009

    The part about “natural” vitamin supplements reminds me of the woo surrounding MSG. I used to believe MSG==bad just like everyone else, and then I did the research. Now there is a group of foodies who advocate that, if there be MSG in food, it must be there “naturally.” In other words, you can boil seaweed to make an MSG-rich broth, but you can’t sprinkle in industrially produced MSG (despite the fact that it was probably made in that exact way). Sigh.

  12. #12 daedalus2u
    February 11, 2009

    It is “common sense”, but so was the idea that lead fell faster than feathers, that the Sun went around the Earth, and that the Earth was flat.

    There is no physiological explanation for why nutrients in food are good, but nutrients in supplements are not. They are the same molecules, they are absorbed, they have the same physiological effects.

    If you look carefully at all the large diet studies, they are all retrospective. They are not prospective and blinded. All the diet studies are from self-selected diets.

    Fundamentally what the diet studies may be measuring is the health of people who choose to eat a “healthy diet” vs. the health of people who choose to eat an “unhealthy diet”. The effect of diet independent of the choice of that diet has never been measured.

  13. #13 Noadi
    February 11, 2009

    I’ve always found the notion of taking vitamins when you have no known deficiency and a healthy diet rather silly.

    That said I do take calcium and vitamin d as a precaution being lactose intolerant, on medication that calcium depletion is a possible side effect, and I avoid sun exposure because I burn terribly easily (plus live in a northern climate), there’s good evidence I should be getting some extra of these. That’s the point though, there is good medical reasons for me to take extra calcium and vitamin D but definitely not all the other things in a typical women’s multivitamin.

  14. #14 Kim
    February 11, 2009

    It’s frustrating to me how hard it is to find straight information about vitamins and supplements, and how quickly the wrong sources of information veer off into fantasy land. Straight sources on the other hand can be a bit heavy-handed with the assumption that everyone eats the same diet and lives at the same latitude, and anyway no lay person needs details, ever.

  15. #15 Michael Ralston
    February 11, 2009

    I take a multivitamin regularly, because I know my diet is almost certainly unbalanced…
    … and it costs about ten cents a day for the multivitamin, which would be worth it for a bit of peace of mind alone.

  16. #16 Angel
    February 11, 2009

    Reminds me of Grandpa that would pay big $$ for naturopath-approved vitamin C (and flax oil and whatnot) and then tell me that anything containing ascorbic acid was bad for you since it contained an evil “chemical”. No use trying to explain it to him.

  17. #17 Marilyn Mann
    February 11, 2009

    “I’m starting to think that there might just be something to the hypothesis that vitamin D supplementation can decrease the risk of colon and breast cancer if the appropriate amount is taken to raise the blood level to a certain range.”

    I was just at my oncologist the other day and he asked me if I was taking vitamin D. I am, and I had my blood level checked several months ago and it was in the 30s.

    Just looked at that post by Dr. Len and I appreciate the need for more research, but since I am a breast cancer survivor I have decided that there is enough evidence to warrant taking a vitamin D supplement now.

  18. #18 Dan G.
    February 11, 2009

    Thanks for your commentary. The evidence seems quite strong that vitamins do not prevent cancer, heart disease, or death. The stupid claims by CAM advocates only muddle the question. I have one note for medical experts.

    Is there any possibility that supplements might have an influence on other non-fatal medical maladies? The study only looks at certain effects. True, mortality is a good indicator. Off hand I can only think of zinc which I take in winter for a minor skin problem. I eat enough meat but extra zinc seems to help me in winter (maybe also with libido?).

    This study doesn’t show that supplements do not effect non-fatal “quality of life” issues, if such exist. Thanks
    very much I enjoy your blog.

  19. #19 Kim
    February 11, 2009

    @John H: A 3-month supply of high-quality vitamin D pills costs about $5…way cheaper than a ticket to Florida for those in the northern latitudes.

    @Noadi: I guess my question is, how do you know you have a deficiency? It’s not really a rhetorical question, I know a number of young vegetarians (usually of the “convenience food vegetarian” variety) who’ve had B12 deficiency neuropathy. A cheap B complex vitamin is pretty good insurance against having a limb go all numb and tingly (although I suppose if you’re informed enough to know your diet is lacking you might just hit up the brewer’s yeast).

  20. #20 Kemist
    February 12, 2009

    Is there any substance to the idea that modern food is vitamin-deficient, possibly because of intensive farming methods?

    None at all. Actual tests on organic vs “conventionally” farmed veggies have found two interesting things:

    - Most conventional veggies do not contain signficantly higher levels of pesticides than their organic counterparts if proper application procedures are applied

    - There is a slight difference of vitamin contents for some veggies but not in the way some health food stores might advertize. Some veggies, when grown with chemical fertilizer, have a little more vitamins than their organic counterparts. The hypothesis is that organic veggies have a harder time growing (pests, lower nutriment contents in soil).

    Furthermore:

    - Organic farming monoculture (the one that produces the organic produce found in supermarkets) on large areas pollutes more, and impoverishes the soil more, than well-managed conventional farming. That is due to the high amount of tilling necessary to obtain the elimination of weeds, which both increases fuel consumption and kills the eminently useful soil fauna such as earth worms and mycorises.

    Conclusion : there is no reason, whether in environment or health, to shell out hard-earned money for organic produce. If you’re environmentally-conscious, buy local. It will also help your local economy as well as maintain food security.

  21. #21 DLC
    February 12, 2009

    :::shrug ::: I don’t eat “Right” and so I take a multivitamin to partly make good on that deficit.

  22. #22 Militant Agnostic
    February 12, 2009

    @Kemist – do have a link/reference for the pesticided levels and vitamin contents.

    The argument made by the vitamin peddlers is that the soil is depleted of trace mineral nutrients which are not supplied by “PKN” fertilizers. Is there any evidence that the vitamin content of our food is significantly less than it used to be.

    I doubt this claim since the P-K-N numbers do not add up to 100% and I assume the filler that makes up the rest of the fertilizer is bone meal or something like that that would contain the trace minerals. I do know that Calgrow brand fertilizer is made from the shit of Calgarians and I assume most other cities do likewise so “conventional” intensive agriculture uses manure like organic farming, just in a more removed manner.

    I switched from buying organic bell peppers when I noticed that the organic ones were coming from Holland or Israel while the “conventional” ones came from British Columbia or perhaps as far away as Mexico. I suspect that organic produce from a place as heavily industrialized as Holland contains more of the dreaded toxins than something growin in a hothouse in the interior of British Columbia.

  23. #23 Robert Baker MD
    February 12, 2009

    Multivitamins contain from zero to 400 units of vitamin D. (400 units raises vitamin D level about 5 ng. and has been shown previously to be near worthless.) This has nothing to do with treating vitamin D insufficiency. 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels below 32 ng.need to be treated. Maximal bone density occurs at levels over 40 ng. Evidence indicates that subobtimal levels are are correlated with cancer and autoimmune diseases. The quickest way to correct levels is prescription strength vitamin D 50,000 units a week for at least 3 months, and maintanence from 1 to 4 times a month.
    The effort to apply the “multivitamins are worthless” studies to correcting subobtimal vitamin D levels can cause confusion and is dangerous to the public health.
    Robert Baker, MD
    Primary Care Internal Medicine

  24. #24 Robert Baker MD
    February 12, 2009

    Multivitamins contain from zero to 400 units of vitamin D. (400 units raises vitamin D level about 5 ng. and has been shown previously to be near worthless.) This has nothing to do with treating vitamin D insufficiency. 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels below 32 ng.need to be treated. Maximal bone density occurs at levels over 40 ng. Evidence indicates that subobtimal levels are are correlated with cancer and autoimmune diseases. The quickest way to correct levels is prescription strength vitamin D 50,000 units a week for at least 3 months, and maintanence from 1 to 4 times a month.
    The effort to apply the “multivitamins are worthless” studies to correcting subobtimal vitamin D levels can cause confusion and is dangerous to the public health.
    Robert Baker, MD
    Primary Care Internal Medicine

  25. #25 Tracy W
    February 12, 2009

    Kemist: If you’re environmentally-conscious, buy local. It will also help your local economy as well as maintain food security.

    Actually it depends. The environmental damage done by transporting foods long distances is arguably far less than the environmental damage done by growing foods in climatic conditions that are less than optimal. For example, keeping animals inside during the winter takes up a lot of energy in maintaining the buildings, keeping them clean, transporting their feed, etc relative to a climate where they can just continue to live outside, perhaps with some food supplements. (see see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4807026.stm for a writeup)

    And choosing to buy locally for that sake alone slightly harms the global economy (as more resources are spent producing things locally when it would otherwise be more efficient to make things in fewer places and transport them) and thus makes us all slightly worse off. Furthermore, most of us with Internet access live in rich countries, so choosing to buy locally means buying more from relatively richer people. Of course if you have some other reason to buy locally, eg it’s cheaper, or it is better quality for money, go for it.

    And how buying locally helps food security beats me. The reason Australians aren’t starving is because they can ship food in from elsewhere to deal with their 6 year drought.

    There’s nothing particularly good from an environmental or ethical viewpoint about buying locally.

  26. #26 Joseph C.
    February 12, 2009

    Has anyone else noticed that you can now post comments on Natural News stories? Let’s all get banned!

  27. #27 Klem
    February 12, 2009

    @Militant Agnostic, Kemist

    A lot of claims about mineral content of organic vegetables cite a table from the “Firman Bear Report”. This is a complete misreading of a study from 1948 that did not actually have anything to do with organic v. pesticides. Explained here:
    http://www.someareboojums.org/blog/?p=5

    But maybe there is some actual data on mineral absorption in organically grown plants?

    Organic farming is excellent anyway, even if there is no difference in the end product, among the main problems is pesticide exposure to workers and the water supply.

  28. #28 Kemist
    February 12, 2009

    @Militant agnostic

    I remember reading that paper a while ago. I’ve found one that says something similar, I don’t know if it’s the same:

    Pubmed

    @Tracy :

    I don’t know. For me, what happened to Australia actually reinforces the need to encourage local production/consumption everywhere. Relying on large monoculture productions made elsewhere puts your food supply at risk because the first people that will be fed in times of bad crops will be the residents of the country, if its government has any sense. Just see what happened in rice-producing countries. I’m not discouraging exports and revenue from agriculture, just excessive dependency. I see no reason why people shouldn’t make it a point to buy fresh local produce when it’s available. If even just for the taste, it is worth it in my opinion.

    On the subject of organic vs conventional farming : organic tends to fare well in smaller-scale, non-monoculture productions, and be a source of problems in larger scales. Properly done conventional production will not expose workers or water supplies to pesticides. That’s what we need to encourage : rational use of resources, not an irrational shunning of some resources because they’re felt to be “unnatural”.

    There is a type of conventional production that uses minimal tilling to great advantage. It minimizes the need of pesticides & machinery, which the producer loves, since it lowers his production costs; it promotes the health of soil microflora and beneficial worms; it minimizes leaching of both pesticides and fertilizer into underground water, which both his neighbors and environmentally-minded people appreciate.

    I’m saying his neighbors will appreciate because the inductrial use of so-called “organic” fertilizer on crops has been known, for many years, to contaminate underground water with bacteria (mostly pathogenic e. coli) in high enough concentrations to induce what some people have come to call “spring diarrhea”. I know several people who stop using their wells in spring because of this. We’ve also stopped using the water from a spring since the local farmers have turned “organic”.

  29. #29 Kemist
    February 12, 2009

    For example, keeping animals inside during the winter takes up a lot of energy in maintaining the buildings, keeping them clean, transporting their feed, etc relative to a climate where they can just continue to live outside, perhaps with some food supplements.

    Many milking farmers I’ve talked to actually prefer to keep their animals inside. The reason for this is simple : an animal which goes outside is at greater risk of wounding/infection. Even those who do send their cows outside, for animal welfare reasons, recognize that their vet and antibiotic costs have gone up, and production has gone slightly down, because of it.

    Another thing is that there exist sturdier rustic cattle which tolerate colder temperatures if it’s preferable for them to be kept outside. I know of some people in my place who raise sheep for meat, which spend their entire lives outside. The sheep are dropped on a small deserted island and left to fare by themselves, with a nutritional supplement for the winter. The meat is a delicacy since it has a characteristic taste from grazing the plants of this island.

  30. #30 Paul Murray
    February 12, 2009

    I take a vitamin B pill when I go out drinking, and another when I taxi home, because I read that the process of metabolosing alchohol destroys vitamin B.

    Oh, some people swear by Berocca, but I just prefer to pop a pill. The way I figure it: if my urine is green, then I’m good to go. Anyone ever noticed that vitamin B – in any form – always tatses like Broccoli?

  31. #31 Tod
    June 15, 2009

    Mad dogs and ….

    “How can vitamin-D deficiency exist despite lengthy sun exposure? This apparent paradox was raised in my last post. The medical community now recommends bloodstream vitamin D levels of at least 75-150 nmol/L, yet these levels are not reached by many tanned, outdoorsy people.[...]

    Only mega-doses can overcome what seems to be a homeostatic mechanism that keeps bloodstream vitamin D within a certain range. Indeed, this range falls below the one that is now recommended. Curious isn’t it? Why would natural selection design us the wrong way? [...]

    In a wide range of traditional societies, people avoided the sun as much as possible, especially during the hours of peak UV (Frost, 2005, pp. 60-62). Midday was a time for staying in the shade, having the main meal, and taking a nap. Nor is there reason to believe that sun avoidance and clothing were absent among early modern humans. Upper Paleolithic sites have yielded plenty of eyed needles, awls, and other tools for making tight-fitting, tailored clothes.”

  32. #32 Tina
    August 25, 2010

    The comment about MSG, I don’t think the natural MSG and artifically produced MSG are the same thing but how does one actually avoid it? It is basically in most processed foods we eat.

  33. #33 Chris
    August 25, 2010

    Learn to cook.

  34. #34 Chris
    August 25, 2010

    …and not be a stupid spammer who does not read the old blog posts you spam.

  35. #35 W. Kevin Vicklund
    August 25, 2010

    Actually Tina, speaking as a person who suffers from migraines and acute IBS when I ingest added MSG, it is possible to find processed foods without MSG. Your choices are more limited, of course. I often find that by adding some herbs or spices, I can easily increase the flavor to the level of MSG+ foods. Cooking certainly helps, though.

    The other thing about learning how to use herbs and spices is that you can lower your salt intake. The only thing I still add salt to, other than baking, gravy, and scrambled eggs (where its actually required for it to properly cook) is popcorn.

  36. #36 Chris
    August 26, 2010

    Actually, Kevin, you can even limit the use of salt in gravy by using a homemade stock that has plenty of marjoram, and one clove. If you start with a flavorful base, you can create a flavorful gravy. You can also do that by deglazing the pan with wine.

    But, yes, salt is required for baking, especially yeast breads. When I make the spinach stuffed pizza from this book I make the dough as instructed, but leave out the salt for the sauce (since the canned tomatoes have more than enough!). This was recommended to us by the friend who introduced us to the book and pizzas after they spent a few years in Chicago while the wife was getting her PhD there.

    I am not joking when I say to learn to cook. It also helps to have an herb garden. I make my own salt-free stock by roasting the vegies (and bones if not using a previously roasted chicken or roast), using one clove and lots of fresh herbs.

    You can reduce, but not truly eliminate salt in an egg omelet by using herbs. I sometimes soften finely chopped onion, bell peppers and carrots in a pan, then put in a mixture of thyme, oregano and/or marjoram and cook slightly to release the oils before adding the egg. I got the idea from The Herbfarm Cookbook.

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