December 3, 2014 by Dr. Sana Keller
The subheading of a recent article in a health magazine mailed to our home recently caught my attention: ‘The five supplements you (probably) shouldn’t be taking’. Hmmm…My first question: who wrote this? Let’s see… The author’s name (Author A) was listed without any credentials or place of employment. Hmmm…Further checking at the end of the article (and throughout the entire magazine) revealed no further author information.
Hmmm…Claims that the general public does not need nutritional supplements such as multivitamins and vitamin D should come from a credible source, agree? Thank goodness for Google™–after all, should we just accept information (especially health-related information) found in a magazine or newspaper as true simply because it is in print? Please say no!
My online searching revealed that Author A is a ‘content editor‘ of several dozen healthcare publications with experience in the publishing and marketing communications industry. The author’s biographical information also mentioned that this author has written on a wide variety of topics from architecture to travel. No healthcare or medical background was listed.
As I was checking credentials of a different author (Author B) from the same magazine who had also written a nutrition-related article, I stumbled across a magazine article (in a different magazine) written by Author B stating: “Several recent studies have shown that vitamin D plays a huge role in reducing the development and spread of cancer, including one from the University of California, San Diego, which found the less exposure a woman had to sunlight (your body makes vitamin D from sunshine), the more likely she was to develop breast cancer. Many women are deficient in vitamin D, so ask your doctor about getting tested. You may need to get more midday sun (many experts suggest ten to 15 minutes per day) or take supplements.”
Author B is a self-described ‘publishing professional’ for various publications. Author B’s credentials were not that easy to find, yet Google™ came through once again: a BA in English/Communication. No healthcare or medical background was listed.
It appears that Author B is in favor of vitamin D supplementation. I make this point because vitamin D is one of the vitamins that Author A stated we ‘probably shouldn’t be taking’. These conflicting health claims are from content editors/publishing professionals–not health care professionals. Obviously not all health care professionals are ‘on the same page’ in their health care recommendations either, yet they should be able to provide solid support for their stance, not just a study snagged in an online search.
I have deliberately chosen not to mention the authors’ names since this post is about emphasizing the importance of checking the source of information before making a decision on whether or not to heed it—especially health-related information.
Back to the original article and the discussion—written by someone in the publishing and marketing industry–NOT a healthcare-related background. I focused on 3 of the ‘supplements you probably shouldn’t be taking’ from this article:
*Please note: I am a firm believer in eating a fresh, whole foods, mostly plant-based diet—yet, I am also a realist and realize that the nutrient levels in much of the produce and other whole foods we consume has decreased over time and a good majority of adults are not consuming enough of these fresh whole foods to derive enough nutrient benefits for optimal health. A goal of eating as healthy a diet as possible along with taking a few quality supplements strongly supports overall optimal nutrition.
The magazine article quoted the Iowa Women’s Health Study in which researchers found that taking multivitamins was actually associated with a slightly increased risk of death. Yet the Harvard School of Public Health provides several reasons why the Iowa study results are “weak”: The study didn’t exclude women who were sick–or take into account whether the supplement was synthetic or natural–or how long they were taking supplements. The Harvard paper also took issue with the Iowa study’s strongest finding regarding supplemental iron, recommending against iron supplements for men or postmenopausal women, unless there is a specific diagnosis of iron deficiency. This is a sound recommendation, yet multivitamins are available with and without iron, so why avoid taking a multivitamin (unless you regularly consume a diet of mainly fresh, organic produce and high quality proteins and fats)? It is a perfect example of ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’. The Harvard paper further questions prior studies: “What about other studies that appear to show vitamin supplements cause harm? Those studies often suffer from the same flaws as the Iowa study.” Here’s a link to the Harvard article.
The magazine article stated that the United States Preventive Service Task Force (USPSTF) gave a ‘thumbs down’ to Vitamin E. Yet Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, CNS, Fellow of the American College of Nutrition, Professor, Senior Scientist and Director of Antioxidants Lab of Tufts University states, “In thinking about the value of vitamin E supplementation, particularly in primary prevention, it is important to appreciate not only its potential benefit in heart disease but also in a variety of other chronic diseases associated with oxidative stress, including age-related macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, cataract, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. Although research on heart disease represents the area of most extensive examination of vitamin E, provocative data on the prevention and treatment of these other conditions, even in the absence of definitive answers, suggest the widespread use of vitamin E supplements is not without a rational basis.” Read Blumberg’s paper here.
The same magazine article stated that “gulping down these tablets (calcium & vitamin D) on a daily basis doesn’t, in fact, appear to reduce fractures.” This study from Clinical Endocrinology revealed clinical findings conflicting with this statement, including: “The findings of community-based clinical trials with vitamin D and calcium supplementation in which compliance was moderate or less have often been negative, whereas studies in institutionalized patients in whom medication administration was supervised ensuring adequate compliance demonstrated significant benefits.” The International Osteoporosis Foundation’s report on the Women’s Health Initiative Study reported similar findings: “In a subgroup analysis among the 60% of women who were adherent to supplementation (defined as those who took at least 80% of their study medication), the risk of hip fractures was reduced by 29%. Furthermore, in the subgroup of women aged 60 years and older, the risk of hip fractures was reduced by 21%.”
The benefits of vitamin D reach far beyond bone health, which the magazine article didn’t mention. Yet, as in the case of this author (without an obvious medical background from which to base health-related education on), it is not surprising. Grassroots Health, a Public Health Promotion & Research Organization, reports that there is increasing research and acceptance to the findings that vitamin D can indeed promote health, as witnessed by doctors now encouraging their patients to take vitamin D supplements and some even being pro-active with vitamin D testing.
Understanding what we should be doing to regain and maintain our health is confusing enough without ‘publishing professionals’ and ‘content editors’ providing questionable information.
My goal is to provide reliable, evidence-based health information that helps you regain and maintain your best health for the long run. To your continued and ever-improving health–
Sana Keller, PhD, RN–Health Coach http://www.healthunlimited.biz
Photo credits: blisstree.com, thefreedomchase.com, itseducationasia.com, blogs.webmd.com, jorgenwelsink.wordpress.com, nutraingredients.com, multiple-sclerosis-research.blogspot.com, keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk