Hard Times for Antioxidants

The second study tracked 36,282 postmenopausal women for seven years who were on calcium and vitamin D to determine if the supplements would offer any benefit as far as preventing invasive breast cancer. After the studies were wrapped up, the researchers found no benefit from either supplement program.

After the publishing of these studies, the press published news articles which were titled “No proof of vitamin C, D, E benefit” suggesting that these two studies prove the ineffectiveness of vitamins and antioxidants for promoting health. Obviously, this headline is both misleading and ridiculous.

The first study which evaluated the effectiveness of vitamin C and E in preventing heart attack or stroke used just 500 mg of vitamin C taken daily and 400 IU of vitamin E taken every other day. These doses are both very conservative and unlikely to offer significant benefit. The vitamin E used in the study was a synthetic vitamin E made from petroleum that is far inferior to natural, mixed tocopherol vitamin E formulas.

In the vitamin D study, just 400 IU of vitamin D was used in the study which studies have shown is not sufficient to improve blood vitamin D levels one bit. Our general recommendation for vitamin D is 2,000 IU daily and this dose may not even suffice. To properly evaluate the effectiveness of vitamin D, we would expect researchers to do vitamin D blood tests and then optimize the dose to achieve sufficient vitamin D blood levels. Research suggests that blood levels in the 50-60 range are considered optimal.

These studies were both heavily flawed. First, the doses of the vitamins were insufficient to positively impact health. This would be equivalent to evaluating the benefit of 1 capsule daily of amoxicillin in treating an infection when 3 capsules daily is the recommended minimum dose. In addition, using a synthetic vitamin E would be like using a chemical which resembles amoxicillin but isn’t quite the same and then making a final conclusion that “antibiotics don’t treat infections.” I hate to say it, but tax payers wasted millions of dollars on two studies which were doomed from the outset. There is an old saying that goes, “At first a new truth is ridiculed, then it is vehemently opposed and then it is accepted.” The good news in all of this bad news is it confirms our belief that we are in the second phase where the world of natural medicine is violently opposed which means that “acceptance” is right around the corner. Call, me optimistic…but that is my belief.

So let’s look at some recent studies that ended with a different conclusion to the above mentioned studies:
1. Circulation, 2007;116:1497-1503 – In this study performed at Harvard University, 39,876 women over the age of 45 were given either 600 mg of natural vitamin E or a sugar pill for a period of 10 years. The group that was given the natural vitamin E had a 21% lower risk of developing a life-threatening clot and the women who entered the study with a history of forming clots experienced a 44% decreased risk of additional clots. In addition, the group given vitamin E enjoyed an 8% lower risk of hemorrhagic stroke, a stroke that involves bleeding in the brain.
2. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2007;167:1610-1618 – This was another study performed at the Harvard School of Medicine. In this study, researchers studied 8,171 women who were given either 500 mg of vitamin C daily, 600 IU of natural vitamin E every other day or 50 mg of beta carotene every other day. This study was similar in design to the study recently mentioned in the press. The researchers reported that the group who took the vitamin E enjoyed an 11% decreased risk of cardiovascular event. When the researchers only included people who consistently took the vitamin E, there was a 22% lower risk of heart attack, 27% lower risk of stroke and a 9% decrease in risk of death from cardiovascular disease. When the people consistently took the vitamin C and E the results were even more significant.

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