Monthly Archives: June 2015

Rebuttal of MacLean’s Article on Vitamins

Nothing wakes up my sense of rebuttal more than an article that tries to sway the population in a way that misleads them.  After a stint away from writing on my blog to cover some more important issues (not that writing on a blog is unimportant) with my Pharmacies, this article was revealed to me.  Entitled, “The Hard To Swallow Truth About Vitamin Pills”, it was a scathing, one sided, article in MacLean’s magazine by Christopher Labos, a cardiologist and medical journalism freelancer.

http://www.macleans.ca/society/health/the-hard-to-swallow-truth-about-vitamin-pills/?utm_content=bufferf2b2d&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

I find it amusing how day in and day out my customers refer to pharmacists as “medication experts”, after all we did study nothing more than drugs and drug monographs for years in school; yet when a physician speaks about anything I am “an expert on”, it automatically trumps my opinion.  Is the issue we can’t be trusted because we sell something we are recommending?  To be clear, vitamins and minerals are no different than any medication I give out every day, otc or rx.  In the Canadian accredited University I went to, Dalhousie University, we spent hours upon hours listening to lectures on evidence based vitamin information and therapeutics – because it would be us as pharmacists that would handle the questions and recommendations on that topic.  Physicians are in a group of the most educated people this country has and we owe our lives to their expertise.  Vitamins however are not part of that expertise.  As written by a physician, this article refers to scurvy and rickets right off the bat.  This is the focus and extent of vitamin education in med school.  It also acknowledges the selected use of folic acid, B12, vitamin K and iron (not a vitamin but we can include minerals in the discussion all the same).  Essentially, one would take away from this article that no other deficiency exists.

There is an elementary discussion of water soluble vitamins not being stored and fat soluble ones being over-stored and a colorful graph of the alarming amount of dollars the United States spends on vitamins – which supplies nothing towards proof of what vitamins do or don’t do, just alarm the reader.  There is also a fear mongering claim that “vitamins might actually increase people’s cancer risk”.  Now there is a media savvy way of grabbing attention.  Any pharmacist knows that beta-carotene is not to be used in smokers as it increases cancer risk.  This article points that out but leaves the reader still thinking, “wait a minute, vitamins can cause cancer”.  There is also the statement made that high doses of Vitamin E are linked to prostate cancer in men.  The proper educational remark would be that Vitamin E is a mixture of 8 stereoisomers (tocopherols and tocotrienols) and that most if not all studies of “Vitamin E” use just one: d-apha-tocopherol.  It’s like a “hormone” study using medroxyprogesterone and calling it a “progesterone study”.  This is why I give the mixed form of Vitamin E when asked by a customer.

The gamma and delta tocotrienols of this antioxidant have shown anti proliferative effects against breast cancer, liver cancer, colon cancer, gastric adenocarcinoma, prostate cancer (yes prostate cancer) and lung cancer and are actively involved in apoptosis (programmed cell death that is key to preventing cancer from developing).  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/25480449/

http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1472-6882-14-469.pdf

This was not mentioned in this article that clearly had an agenda to psychologically sway the reader into thinking vitamins are deadly.  The key point that was missed was that medications need to be taken correctly to work in a beneficial manner.  Not only does vitamin E, when used correctly not cause cancer, but it helps treat some cancers.  The article also states that a dose of 400 IU of Vitamin E is 20 times what you get with your diet and 20 times more than you need.  This assumes we all get the exact amount of vitamin E from our diet every day, which coincidentally is the exact amount of Vitamin E you need as per what the Canadian Recommendations say.  Dietitians of Canada recommends that most Canadians can get the Vitamin E they need from foods

http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Vitamins/Food-Sources-of-Vitamin-E.aspx

This is true, but are they getting that level?  In fact there are claims now that the average US citizen gets exactly half of the dietary reference intake of this vitamin especially in the elderly population and there is no mention of causes of vitamin E depletion or causes of depletion of any micronutrient that requires supplementation for that matter.

The claim that Vitamin C has no protective effect on cancer is very misleading as there are studies out there that claim the exact opposite for various types of cancer, but no benefit for others.  http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/53/1/270S.long

A physician owes it to the population to present a fairly discussed topic and not one that paints vitamins with one brush in all cases.

Graham MacKenzie Ph.C.

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