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Can Vitamins Shorten Your Life?

vitamins, supplements, longevity, bias, Recent research suggests that certain vitamin supplements do not extend life, and could even lead to a premature death.

A review of 67 studies found "no convincing evidence" that antioxidant supplements cut the risk of dying, and vitamins A and E can actually interfere with the body's natural defenses.

Antioxidants are thought to prevent damage to the body's tissues called "oxidative stress" by eliminating the molecules called "free radicals" which cause it. Oxidative stress has been implicated in several major diseases, including cancer and heart disease.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

The traditional media loves to run with stories about supplements that might cause problems. Unfortunately, it’s extremely rare for them to actually analyze the findings, point out the basic flaws, and offer some common sense advice.

First of all, supplements are not killing hundreds, or even tens, or possibly even one, unlike the more than 100,000 people who are killed by prescription drugs EVERY year.

While most experts agree that high quality nutritional supplements are vital for a variety of illnesses and age-related problems, vitamin and mineral supplements can also help to maintain optimal physical and psychological health, promote longevity, and prevent chronic disease.

There is one caveat, however.

The main problem, highlighted by studies such as the one above, is the fact that they are reviewing SYNTHETIC vitamins and supplements, not whole food supplements. Hence the negative results. Your body was not made to process these unnatural agents that pose as equivalents to the real thing. The reality is, they’re frequently not the same and will not provide you with equivalent health benefits.

As mentioned on the last page of the study:  

“Because we examined only the influence of synthetic antioxidants, our findings should not be translated to potential effects of fruits and vegetables.”  

They could have added, “or natural whole food supplements,” because these studies can’t tell you a thing about the real benefits, or potential risks, of natural supplements.

Are They Presenting the Whole Truth?

Aside from the fact that all these studies are looking at synthetic versions of vitamins and antioxidants, there are other issues that should at least be pointed out.

First of all, this meta-analysis included 68 trials – which are quite a few – however, it excluded 405 trials that had zero mortality in both the test- and the control group. If you’re looking at the potential of supplements to either increase or decrease mortality, why wouldn’t you include trials that show supplements have no impact on mortality?

This is mentioned on page 2 of the study, under Statistical Analyses. But what normal, every-day person has the time to read all that, let alone figure out what it all means and the impact it might have on the end result? This, I believe, is the job of the investigative reporter. Unfortunately, they too are on the list of species on the brink of extinction.

Secondly, the trials included used either a) placebo, b) no intervention, or c) a parallel-group control group, meaning the control group received some form of other supplement or pharmaceutical drug. However, the only results included are that of vitamins vs. placebo or no intervention. Personally, I’d love to see how the synthetic vitamins stacked up against drugs such as donepezil (acetylcholinesterase inhibitor); amoxicillin and metronidazole (antibiotics); omeprazole (proton-pump inhibitor); aspirin; and simvastatin (cholesterol-lowering drug).

Did the parallel-group control groups’ drug route increase or decrease overall mortality? I don’t know, but I find it interesting that that data is not included.

To Supplement or Not to Supplement, That is the Question

While I am not opposed to multivitamin supplements, as I personally now take one every day, I most certainly do not support using supplements as a way to justify poor food choices.

Supplement, as the word implies, means IN ADDITION TO, not in place of. I firmly believe that whatever supplements you choose to take, there is simply no substitute for healthy eating habits. In the case of vitamin supplements, they should be in addition to high-quality, unprocessed, whole foods. Preferably a raw and organic diet.

Personally, when I am not traveling, I seek to have about 85 percent or more of my diet as raw food. The moment you cook most food you lose a major element of its vitality. You won't hear much about this in the United States, but the Europeans take the energetic element of food more seriously. For example, there is no supplement that can provide you with biophotons; the only place you are going to get this kind of nutrition is from high-quality food sources.

I am also a firm believer in the concept that it's not necessarily the amount of nutrients you ingest that is paramount. Rather, it's the form of the nutrients, and how much is bio-available, that counts the most.

Every nutrient you ingest raises or lowers up to nine other nutrients in your body. For example, taking large doses of vitamin C lowers your level of copper, so if you are already deficient in copper and take high doses of vitamin C, you can compromise your immune system.

Every nutrient also needs certain synergistic nutrients, and if you are already low in those synergistic nutrients, taking more of one thing will only further deplete the existing deficient levels, worsening any problems relating to that nutrient’s metabolism.

Whole food sources have the accessory micronutrients that may actually be providing more of the benefit than the precise nutrient you are seeking to supplement with.

Can You Trust Vitamin Manufacturers?

What many people do not realize is that it is up to the dietary supplement manufacturer to ensure that their supplement is safe and effective, and that the label is truthful and not misleading.

While you are relying on the vitamin company to provide you with a high-quality product, vitamin manufacturers typically rely on a “certificate of analysis” to confirm that their raw ingredients are safe and effective.

And where do you think they get this certificate of analysis?

Directly from the supplier of their raw materials. There is currently no requirement to do an independent, third-party verification to validate that the raw materials in the supplements are what they say they are, or that they are in the stated amounts.

On top of that, making supplements is a highly complex process with a large number of steps -- and errors can occur at each and every one of these steps. Outside of the ingredients themselves, small oversights, human error, or cutting corners can lead to a supplement that is entirely substandard, or worse yet even dangerous.

So when it comes to choosing a supplement, weeding through your options can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. Even though you are well educated and have good intentions, if you are choosing your supplements on price alone -- which is typical at a chain drugstore or large discount mart -- there is a good chance that the supplement has not been verified through a rigorous quality control process. It is also likely made from primarily synthetic ingredients.

Yes, Homework IS Required

There are a number of high-quality manufacturers out there and you want to make sure that your company is following the ISO 9001, ISO 17025, NSF and GMP guidelines and certification. For more information about this issue, I suggest reviewing the information on my new multivitamin.

So if you are going to invest in a vitamin supplement, then please do your homework. Take the time to ask the right questions, call the company or do independent research on the Net to confirm some of the issues I bring up in my new supplement page.

Why waste your money, and worse yet, risk causing you and your family members potential harm, by using inferior supplements?

Now, as for finding a high-quality supplement, there are several things to consider. First, you want one that is made from all-natural, non-synthetic, whole food ingredients. A high-quality supplement will also be free from additives and potential allergens.

Next, you need to make sure that the manufacturer is doing its job in finding quality raw ingredients, and during the manufacturing process. A good starting point is to ask for opinions for which companies are best at a reputable health food store, and also look for manufacturers that are ISO 9000, ISO 9001, or NSF certified. To gain these certifications a manufacturer will voluntarily submit to exhaustive -- and costly -- auditing of their processes to be sure they are superior.

The Bottom Line  

Your best choice for your nutrients is fresh, high-quality, unprocessed, whole and preferably raw food, plain and simple. But if you are looking for a bit of extra insurance, a truly all-natural supplement can sometimes be warranted.