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Why You Should Not Stop Taking Your Vitamins

Why You Should Not Stop Taking Your Vitamins

The Chiro.Org Blog


SOURCE:   The Huffington Post ~ 10-20-2011

By Mark Hyman, M.D.


Do vitamins kill people?

How many people have died from taking vitamins?

Should you stop taking your vitamins?

It depends. To be exact, it depends on the quality of the science, and the very nature of scientific research. It is very hard to know things exactly through science. The waste bin of science is full of fallen heroes like Premarin, Vioxx and Avandia (which alone was responsible for 47,000 excess cardiac deaths since it was introduced in 1999).

That brings us to the latest apparent casualty, vitamins. The recent media hype around vitamins is a classic case of drawing the wrong conclusions from good science.

Remember how doctors thought that hormone replacement therapy was the best thing since sliced bread and recommended it to every single post-menopausal woman? These recommendations were predicated on studies that found a correlation between using hormones and reduced risk of heart attacks. But correlation does not prove cause and effect. It wasn’t until we had controlled experiments like the Women’s Health Initiative that we learned Premarin (hormone replacement therapy) was killing women, not saving them.

A new study “proving” that vitamins kill people is hitting front pages and news broadcasts across the country. This study does not prove anything.

This latest study from the Archives of Internal Medicine of 38,772 women found that “several commonly used dietary vitamin and mineral supplements may be associated with increased total mortality”. The greatest risk was from taking iron after menopause (which no doctor would ever recommend in a non-menstruating human without anemia).

The word “may” is critical here, because science is squirrelly. You only get the answers to the questions you ask. And in this case, they asked if there was an association between taking vitamins and death in older woman. This type of study is called an observational study or epidemiological study. It is designed to look for or “observe” correlations. Studies like these look for clues that should then lead to further research. They are not designed to be used to guide clinical medicine or public health recommendations. All doctors and scientists know that this type of study does not prove cause and effect.

Why Scientists are Confused

At a recent medical conference, one of most respected scientists of this generation, Bruce Ames, made a joke. He said that epidemiologists (people who do population-based observational studies) have a difficult time with their job and are easily confused. Dr. Ames joked that in Miami epidemiologists found everybody seems to be born Hispanic but dies Jewish. Why? Because if you looked at population data in the absence of the total history and culture of Florida during a given time, this would be the conclusion you would draw. This joke brings home the point that correlation does not equal causation.

Aside from the fact that it flies in the face of an overwhelming body of research that proves Americans are nutrient deficient as a whole, and that nutritional supplements can have significant impact in disease prevention and health promotion, the recent study on vitamins is flawed in similar ways.

How Vitamins Save Money and Save Lives

Overwhelming basic science and experimental data support the use of nutritional supplements for the prevention of disease and the support of optimal health. The Lewin Group estimated a $24 billion savings over five years if a few basic nutritional supplements were used in the elderly. Extensive literature reviews in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine also support this view. Interventional trials have proven benefit over and over again.

The concept that nutritional supplements “could be harmful” to women flies in the face of all reasonable facts from both intervention trials and outcome studies published over the past 40 years. Recent trials published within the last two years indicate that modest nutritional supplementation in middle age women found their telomeres didn’t shorten. Keeping your teleomeres (the little end caps on your DNA) long is the hallmark of longevity and reduced risk of disease.

A plethora of experimental controlled studies — which are the gold standard for proving cause and effect — over the last few years found positive outcomes in many diseases. These include the use of calcium and vitamin D in women with bone loss; folic acid in people with cervical dysplasia (pre-cancerous lesions); iron for anemics, B-complex vitamins to improve cognitive function, zinc; vitamin C, E, and carotenoids to lower the risk of macular degeneration, and folate and vitamin B12 to treat depression. This is but a handful of examples. There are many more.

Why Most Vitamin Studies are Flawed

There is another important thing to understand about clinical trials that review the utility of vitamins in the treatment of disease. The studies that show harm are often designed like drugs studies. For example, a study may use a high dose of vitamin E and see what happens. This is actually a prescient example also explored in recent media. Studies recently found that high doses of vitamin E and selenium didn’t prevent prostate cancer and may increase risk. What this study didn’t explore properly was the true biochemical nature of vitamin E and selenium. These nutrients work as antioxidants by donating an electron to protect or repair a damaged molecule or DNA. Once this has happened the molecules become oxidants that can cause more damage if not supported by the complex family of antioxidants used in the human body. It’s sort of like passing a hot potato. If you don’t keep passing it you will get burned. This study simply failed to take this into account.

Nature doesn’t work by giving you only one thing. We all agree that broccoli is good for you, but if that were all you ate you would die in short order. The same is true of vitamins. Nutrients are not drugs and they can’t be studied as drugs. They are part of a biological system where all nutrients work as a team to support your biochemical processes.

Michael Jordon may have been the best basketball player in history, but he couldn’t have won six NBA titles without a team.

Obesity is Linked to Malnutrition

The tragedy of media attention on poor studies like these is that they undermine possible solutions to some of the modern health epidemics we are facing today, and they point attention away from the real drivers of disease.

Take the case of obesity for example. Paradoxically Americans are becoming both more obese and more nutrient deficient at the same time. Obese children eating processed foods are nutrient depleted and increasingly get scurvy and rickets, diseases we thought were left behind in the 19th and 20th centuries.

After treating more than 15,000 patients and performing extensive nutritional testing on them, it is clear Americans suffer from widespread nutrient deficiencies including vitamin D, zinc, magnesium, folate and omega 3 fats. This is supported by the government’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data on our population. In fact, 13 percent of our population is vitamin C deficient.

Scurvy in Americans in 2011? Really? But if all you eat is processed food — and many Americans do — then you will be like the British sailors of the 17th century and get scurvy.

Unfortunately negative studies on vitamins get huge media attention, while the fact that over 100,000 Americans die and 2.2 million suffer serious adverse reactions from medication use in hospitals, even when they are used as prescribed, is quietly ignored.

Did you know that anti-inflammatories like aspirin and ibuprofen kill more people every year than either AIDS, asthma, or leukemia?


Flaws in the “Vitamins Kill You” Study

So what’s the bottom line on this study on vitamins in older white women in Iowa?

After a careful reading of this new study a number of major flaws were identified.

1.   Hormone replacement was not taken into consideration. Overall the women who took vitamins were a little healthier and probably more proactive about their health, which led them to use hormone replacement more often (based on recommendations in place when this study was done). 13.5 percent of vitamin users also used hormones, while 7.2 percent of non-vitamin users took hormones. Remember the Women’s Health Initiative Study I mentioned above? It was a randomized controlled trial that found hormone therapy dramatically increases risk of heart attack, stroke, breast cancer and death. In this Iowa women’s study on vitamins, the degree of the effect of harm noted from the vitamins was mostly insignificant for all vitamins except iron (see below) and calcium (which showed benefit contradicting many other studies). In fact, the rates of death in this study were lower than predicted for women using hormone therapy, so in fact the vitamins may have been protective but the benefit of vitamins was drowned out because of the harmful effects of hormones in the vitamin users.

2.   Iron should not be given to older women. Older women should never take iron unless they have anemia. Iron is a known oxidant and excess iron causes oxidative stress and can lead to cardiovascular disease and more. This is no surprise, and should not make you stop taking a multivitamin. If you are an older woman, you simply need to look for one without iron. Most women’s vitamins do not contain it anyway.

3.   Patient background was ignored. In this observational study it was not known why people started supplements. Perhaps it was because of a decline in their health and thus they may have had a higher risk of death or disease that wasn’t associated with the vitamins they were taking at all. If you had a heart attack or cancer and then started taking vitamins, of course you are more likely to die than people without heart attacks or cancer.

4.   The population was not representative. The study looked only at older white women — clearly not representative of the whole population. This makes it impossible to generalize the conclusions. Especially if you are an obese young African American male eating the average American diet.

5.   The forms and quality of vitamins they used were not identified. There was no accounting for the quality or forms or dosages of the vitamins used. Taking vitamins that have biologically inactive or potentially toxic forms of nutrients may limit any benefit observed. For example, synthetic folic acid can cause cancer, while natural folate is protective.

6.   A realistic comparison between vitamins and other medications as cause of death was not made. 0ver 100,000 people die every year from properly prescribed medication in hospitals. These are not mistakes, but drugs taken as recommended. And that doesn’t include out of hospital deaths. The CDC recently released a report that showed in 2009, the annual number of deaths (37,485) caused by improper/overprescribing and poor to non-existent monitoring of the use of tranquilizers, painkillers and stimulant drugs by American physicians now exceeds both the number of deaths from motor vehicle accidents (36,284) and firearms (31,228).

In short, this recent study confuses not clarifies, and it has only served up a dose of media frenzy and superficial analysis. It has left the consumer afraid, dazed, bewildered and reaching for their next prescription drug.

Please, be smart, don’t stop taking your vitamins. Every American needs a good quality multivitamin, vitamin D and omega-3 fat supplement. It is part of getting a metabolic tune up and keeping your telomeres long!

To your good health,

Mark Hyman, MD


Mark Hyman, M.D. (www.drhyman.com) is a practicing physician, founder of The UltraWellness Center, a four-time New York Times bestselling author, and an international leader in the field of Functional Medicine. You can follow him on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn, watch his videos on YouTube, become a fan on Facebook, and subscribe to his newsletter.

35 comments to Why You Should Not Stop Taking Your Vitamins

  • Since we cannot know for certain that the results from these studies are flawed (due to our in-expertise or through lack of time) we rely on an authority to tell us the “truth”. (this sounds suspiciously like the clergy interpreting scripture for the laity) Yesterday, “vitamins are bad”. Today, “vitamins are good”. Tomorrow ???. Is there any wonder massive confusion reigns.

    • Hi John!

      Yes, it can lead to confusion, especially when a study sounds “difinitive”.

      My favorite (un-named) nutrition company funded the esteemed epidemiologist, Dr. Gladys Block, of the U Cal Berkeley School of Public Health, back in 2006, to manage a clinical trial. [1]

      The object of the study was to compare long-term supplement users (at least 20 years) with identical matched individuals tracked by the NHANES database. [2, 3]

      Dr. Block’s team would analyze all the blood testing, gather all the demographic data, and run all the statistical analyses. They would also write the paper, and shepherd it through the peer-review process. Although (the company) paid for this study, UC Berkeley maintained complete control over publication of the results, good or bad.

      Check out the results. They are quite impressive. It’s unique, because it’s the first and only such study.

      They compared 3 groups:

      1. The group that supplemented (with a wide spectrum of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and herbs) for AT LEAST 20 years.
      2. People from NHANES who took (at least) a multivitamin, and
      3. People who did NOT supplement.

      Comparative blood tests, the ones routinely used by medicine to screen for the onset of disease, revealed that the long-term supplement users had either normal readings, or significantly better readings for:

      • &#8594 blood homocysteine levels
      • &#8594 C-reactive Protein (CRP) levels
      • &#8594 Total cholsesterol levels, triglycerides and the balance between LDL and HDL cholesterol levels

      AND

      • &#8594 Supplement users (average age 64 years) experienced half the heart disease as the controls, and all of them had normal blood pressure. How’s that for changing the odds?
      • &#8594 Experiences significantly less Numbers of Heart Attacks OR Congestive Heart Failure
      • &#8594 Experienced 73% less diabetes
      • &#8594 Experienced significantly less strokes

      REFERENCES:

      1. Usage Patterns, Health, and Nutritional Status of Long-term Multiple Dietary Supplement Users: A Cross-sectional Study
      Nutrition Journal 2007 (Oct 24); 6 (30)
      http://www.nutritionj.com/content/pdf/1475-2891-6-30.pdf

      2. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
      http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhanes.htm

      3. An Overview of NHANES
      http://wwwtest.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhanes/EnglishFactContinous040002.pdf

  • So people still get disease while on nutritional supplements?
    Does not sound like Edison got it right.

    • Hi Mark

      That makes about as much sense as criticizing Auto Insurance because it can’t prevent car accidents.

      Nothing can GUARANTEE health, but if supplementing significantly reduces the incidence of stroke, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes…well…..gee…I’m ALL for it.

  • Health is rather simple when we step back from the massive kaos and over-indulgence of information and start trusting our own guidance. Remember when we start with the basics of good sleep, nutrition and exercise, our quality of life improves. Of course you will benefit nutritionally from any of the latest nutritional products with the “secret ingredient” that no other person has included in their line. Our food sources are depleted and nourishing our bodies requires organic and “chemical-free” foods. Supplement with whatever line you feel compelled to use, but first and foremost feed your body with food that is vitally sustaining. Remember trust your own bodies and intuition. What works for one individual may not work for another.

  • When I heard of this study while driving to the office and listening to public radio I pulled over and had to listen. I knew that something was fishy given the amount of research that connects lack of specific nutrients and disease.
    I would support a position that includes some sort of objective testing (blood, urine, saliva etc) should be done to identify deficiencies then provide the correct nutrients and retest after the intervention.

  • Frank it makes perfect sense with regards to Edison’s claim. What doesn’t make sense and is opposite of the actual situation is Edison’s claim. There no way to get around the fact that our bodies fundamentally run on chemical reactions, which have many steps that breakdown no mater how healthy a life-style one leads. Drugs will always be needed.

    • Hi Mark

      I can see that the comment “Will give no Medicine” seems to be sticking in your craw… but since I am a chiropractor, I love it….I AM that doctor of the Future. There are NO drugs or surgery in my practice. And THAT is what Edison was predicting…not the death of allopathy, but the BIRTH of Holism.

      No where does his statement say that disease, or the need for surgery, will cease to exist. But any reasonable review of the NHANES database clearly demonstrates that the people who eat the most fruits and vegetables also have the lowest incidence of the top killer diseases. As a DC, that is information I share with every patient.

  • K Sim

    Frank, you’re the kind of doctor that I want in my future (AND in my present). Too bad there are so few of you around–but at least the tide is turning your way, and the thousands of people like me are finding the doctors like you!

  • karl

    I personally, can’t take this study seriously. Dr.Hyman provides good reasoning in my opinion as to why supplements can be needed for certain individuals. I take D3 and Omega-3’s. And to think all these years I’ve been consuming breakfast cereal supplemented with vitamins. On a sidebar regarding Edison who said many things. I have some respect for Edison’s prophecy regarding the doctor of the future.

    Having said that I may interpret differently then others. I look at it as a prediction of the changes medicine/healthcare/people would/should make when they(medicine/people) realize that some humans/conditions will be better suited with natures natural history. This quote by Edison if he indeed said it doesn’t have to be thought as absolute but rather a philosophy to stimulate people and medicine to look/explore simple solutions to health. Maybe more of a fix it before it’s very broken if you will.

    Drugs will always be around/prescribed. I don’t think he meant that drugs would not be around/prescribed, but rather one should consider listening to ones mind/body and consider prevention. Many allopaths are considering this philosophy for some patients. There’s no healthcare intervention that resolves all conditions, but I do believe early prevention strategies, self-knowledge/education, proper nutrition per individual, conservative care/maintenance of the human frame and reduced/avoidance of medication will better ones chances of health. Many people have been wrongly and overly prescribed medication for many reasons. It may be that the doctor of the future will consider as many options as possible for optimal individualized care. Wellness and prevention is now in vogue again. I believe it will be the scene for some time. I’m going to stick with my philosophy for now and that’s teaching health care prevention/reduced symptom(s) strategies, proper diet per individual, corrective exercise and options to reduce medication especially regarding conditions that are/can become chronic(neuromusculoskeletal). If chiropractic treatment can reduce the need for medication or stop medication at that time all together that’s a victory for everyone. It’s not meant to be all or none all the time but it can be less is more. With our healthcare systems on the ropes we could use alittle more doctor of the future philosophy. Just saying.

    • Hi Karl

      You mentioned you were using “breakfast cereal supplemented with vitamins”

      Dr. Block and her cohorts were stumped by the NHANES data regarding homovysteine levels across the board…because all cereal manufacturers started adding some B vitamins to their cereals back in the 90s…and that was supposed to correct the homocysteine levels. However, they are adding inexpensive synthetics to the cereal, whereas the long-term supplement group was using natural-sourced B vitamins. That’s why only the long-term supplementing group had (100% of them) completely normal levels.

  • karl

    Hey Frank, Yeah I was trying to bring some humor to the discussion(chuckle chuckle). If vitamins kill what will the cereal makers say. Anyways I’m familiar with NHANES. I have an affinity for nutrition info./studies. My undergraduate degree (B.S.) from the UofMinnesota is human nutrition/biochemistry. Keep up the good work Frank. I have a couple from Medscape on Osteoarthritis. Let me know how to forward them to you. I think you’ll find some interest in them.

  • Alan Dinehart, DC

    I’m glad we have this pesky vitamin problem worked out. We all know how Chiropractors feel about drugs! And we know that using vitamins to eliminate or prevent disease is using drugs.

  • I can see that the comment “Will give no Medicine” seems to be sticking in your craw

    So it seems like you are now agree with me. Edison’s statement is silly.

    … but since I am a chiropractor, I love it….I AM that doctor of the Future. There are NO drugs or surgery in my practice.

    This isn’t relevant to Edison’s statement but I see why you like it.

    And THAT is what Edison was predicting…not the death of allopathy, but the BIRTH of Holism.

    Holism doesn’t follow from Edison’s statement at all. After all he could mean that all the facts of human beings are not reducible to chemistry. Edison may have been even more reductionist given his electromagnetic interests and thought all of chemistry was reducible to physics. In other words, he may simple been expressing his belief in reductive physicalism.

    No where does his statement say that disease, or the need for surgery, will cease to exist.

    You have just contradicted what you wrote previously (i.e. “Will Give No Medicine”)

    But any reasonable review of the NHANES database clearly demonstrates that the people who eat the most fruits and vegetables also have the lowest incidence of the top killer diseases. As a DC, that is information I share with every patient.

    This is beside the point and irrelevant to Edison’s sweeping claim.

    • Hi Mark

      Well stated. However this is a separate posting than the one containing Edison’s quote.

      I like Edison’s statement, and I think it reflects the chiropractic philosophy. That’s not the same thing as stating that he was 100% correct, or that his personal theories are totally accurate. After all, we are talking about 1903, according to the Snopes web site. He was a visionary of his time, and we might still be reading in the dark without him.

      That still does NOT mean that I agree with your supposition that his statement about drugs is silly. I just interpret it that he predicted a doctor of the future that will not use drugs and surgery…and our profession fills that bill.

      Your comment “You have just contradicted what you wrote previously (i.e. “Will Give No Medicine”) ” ignores the possibility that Edison may in fact have been predicting the BIRTH of Holism, and not predicting the death of allopathy.

      Let me ask you…is it possible he meant that medicine will remain like it is, BUT that a NEW doctor of the FUTURE (as represented by the chiropractic profession) would NOT?

      This is a classic debate. I just choose to embrace what he said because it resonates with my own personal and health-oriented philosophy.

  • This is my favorite post of yours to date Frank! So well written and informative. We have the discussion of vitamin quality with our patients frequently. Especially with the state of the economy, a lot of people would rather buy cheap vitamins at Wal-Mart or Costco, instead of paying a bit more for quality supplement brands. Even the quality of fillers varies widely from brand to brand. It is sad that the pharmaceutical companies have so much power because we truly believe that quality supplementation can help with so many ailments. Thank you again for the great post!

  • “That still does NOT mean that I agree with your supposition that his statement about drugs is silly. I just interpret it that he predicted a doctor of the future that will not use drugs and surgery…and our profession fills that bill.

    Your comment “You have just contradicted what you wrote previously (i.e. “Will Give No Medicine”) ” ignores the possibility that Edison may in fact have been predicting the BIRTH of Holism, and not predicting the death of allopathy.

    Let me ask you…is it possible he meant that medicine will remain like it is, BUT that a NEW doctor of the FUTURE (as represented by the chiropractic profession) would NOT?”

    There is nothing holistic in what Edison says and he did not invent holism. Holism has been around for thousands of years.

    However, Edison’s position has absolutely no reason nor evidence to support it and all reason and evidence against it.

    What he envisioned looses touch with the reality of the human body. For his vision to become true requires that either:

    1. The chemistry of our human bodies doesn’t exist

    or

    2. this chemistry is of minor significance.

    This just isn’t true.

    We are substantially chemicals, chemical processes and chemical factories. In other words, we are substantially drugs and pharmaceutical companies.

    So there is no reason to follow Edison or even view what he said has any reasonable chance of ever happening.

    To make Edison’s vision work so no chemistry is needed would mean a transfer of our consciousness into bodies of pure electromagnetic energy or some other force field found in physics.

    However, this has nothing to do with our current human body which I assume is what he meant.

  • Frank, in regards to homocysteine levels you say, “they are adding inexpensive synthetics to the cereal, whereas the long-term supplement group was using natural-sourced B vitamins.”.
    From a reductionist point of view there is absolutely no difference between a synthetic molecule and one that comes from a “natural” source if they are not isomerically different. The chemistry is precisely the same. Therefore the action in the biochemical pathway should be the same. Yes?

    • Hi John

      I’m sure any manufacturer of synthetic nutrients would like you to believe that they are identical to food-based vitamin molecules, but talk is cheap.

      A friend showed me x-ray crystalography comparision slides of natural vitamin C and synthetic ascorbic acid…incidently, they are both shaped like snowflakes…and although the *basic* shape was similar, the ascorbic acid looked moth-eaten in comparison to the natural C.

      Blood testing of synthetics have shown that they are less-well absorbed and are excreted more rapidly than nutrients found in food. Although *what that means* is still open to interpretation, it is interesting that our body resists absorbing and maintaining synthetic nutrients. And, most importantly, the study I mentioned shows a significant difference between those who rely on cereal for B vitamins, and those in the study who supplemented. There are no doubt other lifestyle differences between “the average Joe” from NHANES and this group, who supplemented for over 20 years, but the key point is that they appear to be beating the odds.

      What does it all mean, Mr. Natural? Well, I guess we’ll have to stay tuned to find out.

  • Chris

    Mark, I think you are ignoring option 3.

    3. Living a genetically congruent lifestyle allows the chemistry of our bodies to work in homeostasis.

    Chemistry is important, but the chemistry is as much of an effect of our lifestyle as it is a cause.

  • Chris I’m not ignoring this at all.

    It’s just that lifestyle has never been shown to be sufficient to eliminate all diseases. The chemistry of our bodies breaks down regardless.

    The issue with Edison isn’t whether one can postpone or prevent some diseases from occurring. The issue is Edison’s claim that one can get around our significant chemical natures. Disease occur because of the limits of “homeostasis.”

    Our bodies defense mechanisms are known to have evolved for short term or acute situations because the energy demands of the self-healing response can’t be sustained without breakdown of other systems like the brain and heart.

    Chronic disorders result because this response isn’t sufficient and often maladaptive in the long term. This is a build in limitation that can’t be gotten around to the extent imagined by Edison. Innate healing is only sufficiency for reproductive survival.

    Another ubiquitous example to think about is the aging process itself. Keep in mind that many if not most chronic diseases are diseases of aging. We have not gotten around aging by lifestyle changes. We all die of old age.

    Breakdown AND by-products/waste of metabolism are responsible for aging. One approach to life extension and therefore the eventual elimination of chronic disease is removing waste products of mitochondrial processes. This will involve pharmacology, gene therapy, and again no lifestyle change will be sufficient to do the whole job.

    • Hi Mark

      You speak of the *diseases* of old age as though they are identical to the slow wearing down of cell reproduction and cell chemistry.

      Of course, everyone will die at some point. The issue is whether one dies of *old age* (clock runs down) OR whether one dies of those diseases ascribed to old age, namely stroke, heart attack, diabetes, cancer etc. etc.

      Most scientists now confirm that all those diseases are lifestyle-related, and are not natural outcomes of aging…they are outcomes of poor diet, environmental toxin exposure and poor behaviors (smoking, no exercise, obesity), leading to the failure of cell immune and antioxidant defense (and maintenance) systems.

      I am belaboring this point because you seemed to be so unfazed by the Landmark nutrition article I posted earlier, which clearly showed significant reductions in the incidence of those diseases in folks who supplemented for at least 20 years (and started in their 20s or 30s).

      I would *think* anyone would get excited by that prospect. It suggests we can improve our odds of dying of actual old age (clock runs down) rather than hideously expensive and unpleasant diseases like stroke, heart attack or the complications of diabetes.

      Of course, there are NO guarantees in this life. Even living a poly-pure life can’t 100% assure you that you will never develop one of those diseases, BUT if you can double your odds of dying healthy by adopting some simple behaviors, I’m all for it, and I hope you are too.

  • Frank you keep missing the point. That study did NOT show that lifestyle was SUFFICIENT to eliminate or even treat disease by drugs. All it showed was it helps with preventing certain disorders it does not eliminate them.

    Your second point on aging is from an outdated view from gerontology. It is now considered by many in that field to be the primary reason for many disease of old age independent of lifestyle. It is the case as you say “Most scientists now confirm that all those diseases are lifestyle-related.” However, the key word is related. In other words, can be contributing factors but this can mean secondary factors.

    Here is another way to look at this with a relatively similar analogy. This analogy will substitute mechanical features for chemical features but that wouldn’t affect the main point. I can buy a new car and keep it in good working order by changing fluids and filters, having tune-ups, using the best gasoline and so on. This may extend the length of time before something breaks down or it may not if the car acquired a defect somewhere. I will eventually need repair. No amount of “good car lifestyle” will prevent damage that’s the from the start (design), acquired (like catching a flu) or wear and tear (like aging). One difference between human bodies and car bodies is that human bodies are much more associated with chemical processes instead of mechanical ones so they need chemical treatments.

    • Hi Mark

      Your analogy of car repairs is reasonable, BUT, only up to a certain point.

      Machines have no capacity for SELF-REPAIR Our genetic coding provides the blueprint for replacing defective liver cells with healthy new replacements.

      Unfortunately, that can only occur IF the body also has all the building blocks necessary for the task…essential amino acids, various forms of essential fatty acids, and all the cofactors, co-enzymes, vitamins and minerals.

      You state: “All it showed was it helps with preventing certain disorders it does not eliminate them.”

      Are you suggesting that drugs eliminate disease?

      You go on to state: “Most scientists now confirm that all those diseases are lifestyle-related.” However, the key word is related. In other words, can be contributing factors but this can mean secondary factors.

      Odds are a mathematical construct. Ask any bookie. Having high odds of winning is no guarantee of winning…but that doesn’t stop people from betting, or running races, does it?

      I don’t mean to be glib, but are you trying to suggest that because exercise, proper nutrition, or good mental attitudes can’t guarantee results, that they are worthless? Can drugs or surgery guarantee results?

      I guess you are right…I am missing your actual point.

  • Chris

    Mark,

    How could lifestyle ever be proven to completely eliminate all disease? There are too many contributing factors. How do you control for the effect someone’s thoughts have on their physiology? What exactly is the perfect lifestyle?

    Is your beef just with the Edison quote? Or, do you actually believe that drugs are required to live a long healthful life?

  • Frank, so what I think you are saying is that the crystalline forms of the vitamins are different and that these differences affect the way they are absorbed. That I could accept. Apparently chromatography shows visible differences between the two. And of course a vitamin c complex from food contains more than just ascorbate.

    • Hi John

      I guess what I’m really saying is that the Plant Kingdom does not produce isolated compounds like ascorbic acid in a vacuum…they are always produced as part of a complex to accomplish their physiologic tasks, and so yes, comparing a natural substance to it’s (supposed) synthetic analog is not really comparing apples to apples.

      When I first started compiling the Nutrition Section, I wanted to add a sub-section extolling the virtues of Organic Produce. [1] Unfortunately, agribusiness giants like Monsanto had funded most the early organic vs. conventional studies that were available online, and the results were very discouraging.

      These pseudo-studies usually focused on single-substance comparisons, like ascorbic acid content, and concluded that organic produce was not significantly richer in that particular nutrient. In fact, it’s only recently that serious, long-term trials have demonstrated the superiority of naturally grown fruits and vegetables. [2-5]

      As I continued my research, I discovered a fascinating article in the June 2009 issue of Functional Ingredients, a magazine that targets supplement manufacturers. This review opened my eyes to a completely different way of researching the topic of organics, when the author wrote:

      Phyto-alexins are low molecular-weight compounds that accumulate in plants in response to infection, wounding, freezing, UV light exposure, and micro-organism attack. This process, known as Induced Systemic Resistance of plants against pathogens, is a widespread phenomenon, but only recently has the potential health benefits (of these compounds) been recognized.” [6]

      I had never heard the term phytoalexin. Could this be the Rosetta Stone for understanding organics? Unfortunately, as I searched further, most of the articles about phytoalexins were devoted to creating more powerful or “greener” pesticides, not about their health benefits.

      As I was reaching the end of my rope, I uncovered a large series of articles, buried on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website (USDA), which discussed some of these remarkable compounds. [7]

      Phytoalexins are actually a whole class of phenolic compounds, produced by plants in response to some form of attack. Although this defensive plant mechanism had been studied for nearly 60 years, only recently has the potential health benefits of these compounds been explored in depth. [8]

      The most interesting fact about them is that phytoalexins are not usually found in high concentrations in plants that have been grown conventionally… they are (pretty much) unique to organic produce! As it turns out, this is much more important than knowing that your organic carrot has a higher concentration of beta-carotene. What really matters is that your humble organic carrot may actually contain additional powerful polyphenoplic compounds that you won’t find anywhere else!

      Even better, research continues to demonstrate that this class of substances provides enhanced antioxidant power, anti-inflammatory properties, anti-aging capacacity, and significant anti-cancer potential. [8]

      REFERENCES:

      1. The Nutrition Page
      http://www.chiro.org/nutrition/

      2. Official: Organic Really Is Better
      BBC News — October 29, 2007
      http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/health/article2753446.ece

      3. Ten-year Comparison Of The Influence of Organic And Conventional Crop Management Practices On The Content Of Flavonoids In Tomatoes
      J Agric Food Chem 2007 (Jul 25); 55 (15): 6154-9
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17590007?

      4. Comparison Of The Total Phenolic And Ascorbic Acid Content Of Freeze-dried And Air-dried Marionberry, Strawberry, And Corn Grown Using Conventional, Organic, And Sustainable Agricultural Practices Agric Food Chem. 2003 (Feb 26); 51 (5): 1237-41
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12590461?

      5. Modulation Of Antioxidant Compounds In Organic Vs Conventional Fruit (Peach, Prunus persica L., and Pear, Pyrus communis L.)
      J Agric Food Chem. 2002 (Sep 11); 50 (19): 5458-62
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12207491?

      6. The ORAC of Organic And The Promise of Phytoalexins
      Functional Ingredients ~ June 2009
      http://www.functionalingredientsmag.com/article/Ingredient-Focus/orac_organic_phyto_alexins.aspx

      7. USDA Website Search For The Term “Phytoalexin”
      http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?navid=SEARCH&q=phytoalexins&site=usda

      8. Phytoalexin-enriched Functional Foods
      J Agric Food Chem 2009 (Apr 8); 57 (7): 2614-22
      http://ddr.nal.usda.gov/dspace/bitstream/10113/29199/1/IND44188887.pdf

  • Frank you are right that we have the capacity for self-repair BUT so do cars in a limited way.

    It’s called feedback and modern cars are equipped with all kinds of sensor and computers for that purpose that have to do with ignition, braking and so on.

    However, whether you are talking about the advance self-repair systems of human bodies, which I’ve already mentioned in regards to things like chronic disorders and aging, or the limited ones of cars, both break down in the ways I mentioned and more. Lifestyle changes have limits and drugs are needed to move past those.

    Drugs help eliminate diseases past what the human body and lifestyle can.

    Bacterial infections and cancers are examples that come to mind.

    The more we understand the genetics and associated chemistry the better newer drugs will become.

    We have moved past the limits of “lifestyle therapy” with the synthetic drug paradigm which given the ever increasing knowledge about human metabolism is steering us in a direction that will conquer the aging process itself.

    While lifestyle changes are important, they are “small beer” compared to the ever evolving drug paradigm.

    Frank, in your last statements you are just trying to put words in my mouth by changing the issue from Edison’s fantasy about getting rid of drugs to something I never said about how lifestyle changes are worthless.

    • Hi Mark

      I’m not “putting words in your mouth”. The whole tone of your string of comments is that lifestyle changes don’t seem to hold a candle to drugs. I asked repeatedly IF you believe that drugs can provide guarantees that lifestyle modification can’t, and you have yet to respond to that.

      I disagree that cars have any aspect of self-repair in them. Yes, they have sensors, to make it easy for mechanics to *diagnose* what part to replace. The beauty of the human body is that we can and do replace our own parts, manufactured from our food. Sadly, the quality of mass-produced, pesticide laden, and force-grown fruits and vegetables has declined, and that’s why I posted this article about vitamins.

      I also disagree with your earlier contention that vitamins are drugs. Perhaps my definition of a drug is a little different than yours. The generic definition of a drug is a substance that modifies the way the body functions, to accomplish a goal. Food (which contain vitamins) primary function is NOT to modify what the body does. It’s the fuel we need to maintain the normal (and usual) function of the body.

      Our immune system is unique, because it is a factory that produces substances (drugs, if you will) that DO modify the body…raise our temperature, speed up our chemistry, and attack, isolate, or destroy invading bacteria. None of that occurs in a vacuum…this process only operates at peak performance when we feed it the required building blocks: protein, carbos, fats, vitamins, minerals, and other less well defined substances found in our food.

      I agree with you that these systems can fail. The real issue is WHAT causes that system failure. Those causes include: exposure to environmental toxins, genetic damage, shortening of telomeres from long life, and failure to absorb all the building blocks from our food. The only one of these that is actually related to age is the shortening of telomeres. That will definitely extend lifespan.

      You state that: “Drugs help eliminate diseases past what the human body and lifestyle can.”

      Hmmmm. Taking insulin does not eliminate diabetes…it treats it. As for antibiotics, answer me this: Why am I alive? I haven’t taken one antibiotic since 1971, even though I have had repeated bacterial and viral infections since that time.

      I agree with you that ‘The more we understand the genetics and associated chemistry the better newer drugs will become. Isn’t it also just as likely that as we understand more about human chemistry, that we will also learn more about which nutrient deficiencies led to the failure of our inborn antioxidant repair systems, that led to the genetic damage, that led to succumbing to a particular disease?

      I acknowledge your admiration for the “synthetic drug paradigm”, but I am not convinced that it is the ONLY path to improved health. Substances like resveratrol, and the phytoalexin compounds produced by plants (polyphenols) have been shown to protect us from the cross linking of proteins that cause AGE proteins (advanced glycation end products) that lead to the failure of cell function. There is even some compelling research suggesting that components of food (vitamins, polyphenolic compounds) can halt, or slow the shortening of the telomeres.

      You state that “lifestyle changes are important, they are “small beer” compared to the ever evolving drug paradigm.” , but the truth is that we don’t really know this for a fact.

      Drugs appear to be a helpful tool, but let’s not ignore their well-documented and numerous dangerous side-effects.

      I am just saying that there is considerable (and credible) evidence that there are natural substances (like resveratrol) in our food that appear to be PREVENTATIVE of disease, and IF we harness those properties, we can reduce the incidence of disease…prevention…and that this is a much more desirable goal that waiting on the sidelines, with drugs in hand, for some disease to appear.

  • Chris,

    I would say that drugs are required to live a longer and healthier life. That should be pretty obvious, think of where a person with diabetes would be without insulin.

  • Hi Frank.

    Of course drugs can and do provide guarantees that life-style changes can’t as I’ve repeatedly stated or implied. For instance, see if all diabetics can change their lifestyle and live without their meds? Curing diabetes does not occur but preventing it’s associated damaging consequences does. Your personal anecdote about antibiotics doesn’t generalize as we both know.

    Next is the car example but you seem not to realize that self-correction does not necessarily mean self-replacing but that’s beside the point of the analogy. What’s at issue is that self-correction of any kind fails even under the best circumstances. When it does then extra help is required.

    The more we know about molecular biology the more we know of the many complex steps involved and that’s how we know that lifestyle changes will never be enough. I’ve said before that there are many steps in this process but the problem with a lifestyle change that doesn’t involve synthetic drugs is you have limited ways to affect points in this process. This has always been lifestyle therapies Achilles heal.

    As to inborn anti-oxidant damage, that happens no matter what lifestyle you adopt since it’s a function of the mitochondria to produce waste just like coal-burning power plants. The quality of coal helps but doesn’t eliminate the problem. In fact there are about 6 to 7 different ways our bodies produce cellular waste by design … even with a healthy lifestyle and supplements like Resveritrol. Drugs will be designed to eliminate these damaging wastes pushing our life spans into the hundreds if not thousands of years. There is no lifestyle alternative to accomplish anything even remotely similar.

    The predictions for the synthetic drug paradigm versus the lifestyle paradigm are just non-pessimistic inductions from all the evidence about humans, human bodies and lifestyles we have so far. It’s all pointing in that direction.

    On side-effects, they happen with all approaches and the associated goal is to get better at minimizing them.

    Now you are suppose to point to evidence or give reasons that are relevant to the issue at hand. Again the issue is Edison’s statement and not whether lifestyle changes can help. It’s whether one can eliminate drugs entirely.

    In fact it’s reasonably certain that Edison was just plain wrong about this.

  • Chris

    Mark,

    Given the opinion you’ve presented here I’m not surprised that you list all of the following as your specialties before chiropractic on your resume.
    – medical devices
    – medical instruments
    – medical imaging
    – pharmaceuticals
    – biotechnology
    – sale
    – account management
    – business development
    – durable medical equipment
    – disposables/supplies
    – software
    – hospital
    – orthopedic

    http://www.linkedin.com/in/mszlazak

  • Yup, that was when I was not doing chiro anymore and job hunting. It’s part of my looking at moving into medical device sales.

    However, that’s not the case anymore but even if it was it is still irrelevant to the arguments presented which is what needs to be addressed ;-).

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