Well, HuffPo does it again. No other mainstream news outlet brings the stupid on health news like Arianna. Take today’s vapid article on vitamin supplementation.
Let me remind all of you amateur biologists that vitamins, discovered over a hundred years ago, were found to be “vital” to health. What made them different from macronutrients such as fats, proteins, sugars, etc., is that they were only required in very small quantities. There has always been a fascination with vitamins, and even during this time of nutritional excess, people like their supplements.
Thankfully there are scientists out there who know how to ask a question and how to interpret an answer. In general, very little vitamin supplementation is needed for most Americans. Folic acid taken by women before and during pregnancy helps prevent a type of birth defect. Vitamin D deficiency is not uncommon in northern latitudes and may lead to problems such as osteoporosis. But in most cases, vitamin supplementation hasn’t been found to be all that beneficial. For example, the SELECT trial failed to show prostate cancer prevention with selenium, vitamin E, or both. The Women’s Health Initiative data failed to show any benefit of multivitamins on cancer, coronary disease, or mortality. Vitamin A supplements may actually worsen health.
There is nothing magical about the chemicals we call “vitamins”. Most are needed in small amounts so that the body functions properly, most will not have benefit if taken in larger amounts, and a typical American diet provides far in excess of what is needed. So why do people love this stuff? Look at what the idiot from HuffPo has to say:
I compare this kind of thinking [referring to a silly anecdote] to the individuals who won’t blink when some white coat gives them a pill for some ailment or a little extra stress but would NEVER take a vitamin. Too risky. I mean after all your meds could lead to three other pills to deal with your new side effects or your impulse to gamble or bloody urine. Makes sense to me.
The author, who obviously knows less about biology than my four-year old, sets ups a bizarre false dichotomy based on other false assumptions. The “white coat” obviously refers to folks like me, and the false assumption is that I’m handing out poisons that will require additional poisons to counteract them. The false dichotomy pits my poisons against unproven and disproved vitamin supplements which, while often harmless, are equally useless.
I can see how vitamins are confusing, an added expense, and a pain in the butt. However, none of us are getting the 39 essential vitamins and minerals we need in our food so, in my mind, they’re something we should rotate in and out of our diets. You can run down to Costco or to GNC when they are having a sale and go grab a bottle. Sorry, it’s not quite that easy.
More lies (or, more generously, dangerous ignorance). Most of us will get all of the essential nutrients we need, and more. And they are expensive. If you’re spending money on vitamins and it’s digging in to your budget, maybe it’s time to talk to your doctor (you know, the one in the white coat who is poisoning you but managed to pass biology)—what was I saying? Oh yeah, talk to your doctor to see whether you even need vitamin supplements. Are you a vegetarian? Do you have anemia? Are you trying to get pregnant? Getting chemotherapy? There are situations were certain vitamins are used and supported by evidence, but there aren’t many.
She goes on to give a bunch of paranoid and unscientific recommendations, none of which are based on science.
Better to buy a whole food vitamin since it’s a food already. There are tons of studies showing that the body can absorb these vitamins 20x greater then synthesized vitamins. So yes, the buy in bulk vitamin is cheaper, but you may be only get 1% of the nutrients if any at all. Talk about a waste of dough!
What the hell does that mean? To me it means that she likes to throw away money.
Not that it would matter to me but the FDA does not regulate the vitamin supplement industry (probably not enough money in it).
So, we should go out and buy expensive, useless vitamins—not medicine, like those evil FDAers want you to.
I realize it seems a little voodoo voodoo, but I am a real believer in vitamins helping us defend our health, sleep better, process stress, and just better over all body function. If you want to get crazy I’m all for natural Chinese herbs and teas.
Whoa, easy there, are you sure you don’t just want a Prozac? I mean tea can seem pretty scary, and it has been around for thousands of years. What do they know?
The part I highlighted pretty much says it all. It’s not about what is real, it’s about what the author believes. It’s religion. And just for good measure, she reminds us that herbs have been around longer than medicine so they must be better.
Let’s remember that blood letting has been around a long time, too. That doesn’t mean it’s good for all that ails you.
Alternative medicine is religion, and while I couldn’t care less where or whether you pray, when you give advice that can hurt my patients, I’m gonna take that hunk of stupid away from you and shake it in your face like a soiled newspaper.