Over the past few years, it's become almost fashionable for scientists and
journalists to attack vitamins and other nutritional therapies. This makes no sense to me, because there now is much research showing the benefits of nutritional supplements. These attacks do a great disservice to people who want to stay healthy. Since there are many misconceptions about nutritional supplements, I'm going to set the record straight about vitamins and nutrients.
Lie: Vitamin D is toxic at doses higher than 2,000 international units (IU) daily.
Truth: Doctors now agree that adults should take a minimum of 2,000 IU daily.
Most of the fears about high doses of vitamin D date back to a small 1984 study in India, in which doctors blamed high calcium levels on vitamin D. (Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption) Other studies involving high levels of vitamin D did not show the same high calcium levels, but for some reason, the Indian study continues to be the basis for the toxicity level recommendations of the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine. The US government recommendations for 200 IU to 400 IU of vitamin D daily are woefully inadequate. Most Americans don't get enough Vitamin D. Have your vitamin D levels checked. In addition to what you get from the sun and foods, children (from one day old up to 12 years old) should take a minimum of 1,000 IU daily (and 2,000 IU during winter). Adults should take 2,000 IU daily 6,000 IU during winter).
Lie: Vitamin E increases the risk for death.
Truth: The original research was based on flawed interpretation of the data.
At the heart of this falsehood is a 2005 Annals of Internal Medicine analysis that looked at 19 clinical trials in which participants who were chronically ill were given vitamin E and/or other supplements. The authors concluded that adults who took supplements of 400 IU or more daily of vitamin E were 6% more likely to die from any cause than those who did not take vitamin E supplements. However, the data also revealed that the increased risk for death was statistically significant only at a dose of 2,000 IU daily (not to mention that the study did not look at the vitamin's effect on healthy people). These results should hardly be interpreted as saying that vitamin E is a substance that the general population should avoid. Other research shows that vitamin E can help treat and prevent cardiovascular disease, blood clots and dementia. Take 200 IU daily of a mixed supplement that contains a full blend of the vitamin E components tocopherols and tocotrienols.
Half-truth: Antioxidants reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy.
Truth: Research shows some antioxidants help. Ask a holistic oncologist what's best for you.
This statement is a half-truth because certain antioxidant supplements, such as green tea extract, may interfere with some types of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. However, the majority of studies on antioxidants and chemotherapy show that antioxidants don't interfere with these treatments. Several recent medical journal articles show that cancer patients taking high-dose antioxidants live longer, have less pain and have better quality of life than people who do not take these supplements. Some of the studies even show that antioxidants enhance the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
I often recommend antioxidants, such as 200 milligrams (mg) to 300 mg of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), to my cancer patients.
Note: Some antioxidants may interfere with specific chemotherapy drugs. If you are undergoing chemotherapy, check with a holistic physician or oncologist about potential interactions and ask which antioxidants are right for you.
Half-truth: Beta-carotene increases the risk for lung cancer.
Truth: A synthetic form was studied; look for the natural form insead.
This half-truth about beta-carotene stems from results of a Finnish study of male smokers who took a synthetic form of beta-carotene, (The researchers did not test the natural form.) The men had greater incidence of lung cancer with a 15% higher death rate than the men in the study who took vitamin E alone...both vitamin E and beta-carotene...or a placebo. It's unclear why these long-term smokers had a detrimental reaction to synthetic beta-carotene supplementation, but it doesn't make sense to rule out this antioxidant for use by the general population-especially since other studies have pointed out its benefits. For example, an 18-year study of American men found that beta-carotene was associated with reduced risk for age-related mental decline. Nutrients such as beta-carotene work best in their natural form, where complementary phytochemicals are present, so look for supplements made with natural beta-carotene (from D. salina algae).
Best: Take a mixed carotenoid complex, such as Natural Factors BetaCare All (800-322-8704, www.naturalfactors.com for a store locator).
Lie: CoQ10 doesn't help the heart.
Truth: Hundreds of scientific papers say otherwise.
The truth is that CoQ10 can reverse two of the deadliest types of heart disease-cardiomyopathy and heart failure. And yet most of my patients with cardiovascular disease tell me that their cardiologists never told them to take CoQ10. This has led me to believe that most mainstream cardiologists haven't read the hundreds of published scientific papers on it and remain oblivious to its benefits. For my patients with congestive heart failure, for example, I generally recommend 100 mg of CoQ10 three times daily taken with meals.
Half-truth: Vitamin C doesn't prevent colds.
Truth: Vitamin C prevents colds in some, reduces symptoms in most.
Vitamin C seems to help prevent colds in some people and not others, but it pretty consistently reduces cold symptoms in people who do catch a cold. In one study, vitamin C significantly reduced the risk of catching a cold (by 50%) in people who subject their bodies to extreme physical stress, such as marathon runners and soldiers. Other reviews have found that vitamin C supplements can cut cold symptoms and duration by one-third. The dose is crucial-taking just a little doesn't help with a cold. When sick, take 2,000 mg to 6,000 mg daily. For prevention, especially during stressful periods, take 1,000 mg to 2,000 mg daily.