Tuesday, December 16, 2008

More vitamin debunking

I cross-posted this at the Orange County Register's Orange Punch Web site a couple of weeks ago, when this study claiming Vitamin Ca and E had no protective effect against heart attacks or stroke received so much publicity. Whenever a flawed study like this claiming to prove taking vitamins is a waste of money, the "mainstream" media seem to cover it heavily and utterly uncritically. They thereby do a great disservice to the cause of good health in America:

A week or so ago most media outlets heavily covered a report that seemed to debunk claims that Vitamin C or Vitamin E offered any significant protection from heart attack or stroke. As this Life Extension Foundation report demonstrates fairly clearly, however, those studies were severely flawed.

A little background. Several large-scale studies in the early 1990s showed significant reduction in such diseases from rather large doses of these vitamins. The most widely reported was done at UCLA and showed that of 11,348 participants, those that took 800 mg of Vitamin C a day (the Orwellian “recommended daily allowance” is 60 mg) lived six years longer than those who took only 60 mg, and this higher intake reduced cardiovascular disease by 42%. A more recent study done at UC Berkeley(hardly reported outside scientific jourrnals) showed much more hopeful results. Other studies show protection against the onset of Alzheimer’s and other diseases.

The study widely reported last week had four groups of male doctors take 500 mg a day of C, less than the amount deemed to be efficacious. They also took only 400 I.U. of Vitamin E every other day, whereas most vitamin enthusiasts recommend at least 800 IU (natural rather than the synthetic used in the test) every day. In addition, the subjects’ intake was not monitored; they were told to rely on their memories over eight years as to how religiously they had taken their vitamins.

Small wonder that the result was little or no difference between those who had taken the vitamins and those who had received a placebo. It raises a real question as to whether this test was designed to fail. The question was why the media so aggressively reported this study.

I still resist the dark conspiracy theory that the big pharmacuetical companies constantly try to debunk regular vitamin usage so people will develop diseases that require enormously more expensive prescription drugs. Much can be attributed, of course, to the enormous scientific ignorance of most journalists. But there’s something going on, and it isn’t constructive.

(Full disclosure: While in college I met and became friends with Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw, who went on to write “Life Extension: A Practical Scientific Approach,” which had a flurry of popularity in the 1970s. Knowing that they were both trained as scientists, having talked extensively with them when they were doing their preliminary research, and having stayed in touch with them over the years, I’m convinced they’re onto something. Consequently I take what most people consider a ridiculous amount of vitamins, including 5,000 mg daily of Vitamin C. Having reached an age when such things are not a bad idea — 65 next month, but you’ll have to put up with me for a few more years before I retire — I recently had a complete physical and came out with virtually perfect health. I’m healthier than most people I know 15 years younger than I am. I’m well aware that genetics and the fact that I generally refrain from doing physically really dangerous things play an important role, and I obviously haven’t been able to do a double-blind test on myself. But I strongly recommend that anybody who wants to live long and avoid debilitating disease get a copy of Durk and Sandy’s book (it’s practically free at Amazon.com now) and take their findings into consideration.

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