In the May 2007 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition an interesting series of comments can be found in the letters to the editor. John Hathcock, an employee of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a dietary supplement advocacy group, questioned a study published in the same journal last year that doubted that antioxidants and vitamin/mineral supplementation was beneficial in the prevention of cancer or cardiovascular disease. He made some compelling arguments against the use of meta-analysis (a statistical method) when reviewing the benefits or lack there of, of supplements. First off, he points out that they included only a small number of clinical trials which is a problem using a meta-analysis. Others argue that all we really need is the RDA to avoid disease but he points out that the prevention of neural tube defects through the use of supplemented folic acid is not a sign of deficiency but a need for extra supplementation.
Donald McCormick of Emory University and Joachim Bleys, et al of Johns Hopkins Medical Institution argue in their correspondence that indeed their findings do show no benefit to the use of antioxidants or B-vitamins. While Hathcock says that the famous Women’s Health Study showed a benefit to the use of vitamin E in reducing cardiovascular death, McCormick and Bleys quote the study conclusion that states “These data do not support recommending vitamin E supplementation for cardiovascular disease or cancer prevention among healthy women.” Both are correct but the later is misleading.
First off, the studies were done on a form of vitamin E known as alpha-tocopherol which is not the optimal type. Gamma-tocopherol should make up at least 40% of the vitamin E used for many reasons (to be discussed at a later date). Secondly, the study showed benefits to unhealthy women but the conclusion states that they can’t recommend vitamin E use to “healthy” women. That is a blatant misleading conclusion and is easily misconstrued to show no benefit to anyone.
My real problem with both sides of the controversy is the use of large population studies to support or deny the benefits of supplementation. It is preposterous to suggest that these studies are beneficial in any way, shape or form when you looking at the concept of biochemical individuality. You are different from me, and what would benefit me, may either have no effect on you or may actually harm you. Are all supplements beneficial? Depends. To some people, some nutrients may be harmful or wasteful. To others, it can be life saving or dramatically life enhancing. What you need to do is to laboratory testing to determine what you really need.
In my 20+ years of reviewing lab test data, I have yet to see two sets of results that are the same. Fifty thousand tests in the bag and still no two people who are alike. I have seen people who have taken too many supplements, the wrong array and many who don’t have adequate intake of essential nutrients to stay healthy. If we can only get researchers to adopt a new paridigm and look at individuals instead of populations, we might, just might get better health care and a real improvement in the quality of our lives.