Should you take Vitamin Pills?

September 8, 2011 | by Dr. Jess

Once again, another great article from Dr. Mirkin I felt was a must-read.  Reproduced with permission from Dr. Gabe Mirkin's E-zine at www.drmirkin.com.   Enjoy!

Get Vitamins from Food, Not Pills

One in three women and one in four men in the United States take vitamin pills regularly.  This month, a study that followed 182,099 people in California and Hawaii for an average of 11 years showed that taking multivitamin pills neither decreased nor increased the death rate for all causes or the rates of heart attack or cancer (American Journal of Epidemiology, August, 2011).

A previous review of 67 randomized trials of vitamin pill effects on life and health found that taking vitamin pills may shorten life (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 1, 2008).  The authors found an increased death rate of 16 percent in those taking vitamin A pills, seven percent with beta- carotene, and seven percent with vitamin E.  The Women's Health Initiative study followed women for eight years and found that taking multivitamin pills has little or no influence on the risk of common cancers, heart attacks or death rate in postmenopausal women (Archives of Internal Medicine, February, 2009).  A review of the world's literature shows that multivitamin use neither increases nor decreases risk for breast cancer (Annals of Pharmacotherapy. published online April 2011).

VITAMIN D FROM SUNLIGHT, NOT PILLS:  Vitamin D is the only vitamin that appears consistently in the literature to help prevent heart attacks and cancers, and that benefit is related more to the fact that you can get it from sunlight  (Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, April 2011).  The Swedish Women's Lifestyle and Health cohort study followed women for up to 15 years and found that women who got sunburned twice or more per year during adolescence live longer than those who had been sunburned less than that. Women who went on sunbathing vacations more than once a year lived longer and suffered fewer heart attacks.

VITAMIN B PILLS MAY CAUSE HARM:  Every chemical reaction in your body is started by an enzyme.   For your body to convert chemical A to chemical B, you need an enzyme to start that reaction.  All eight B vitamins are parts of enzymes.  When you take large doses of one enzyme, you accumulate end products that must be balanced by also taking large doses of other enzymes. For example, NIACIN LOWERS CHOLESTEROL, BUT RAISES HOMOCYSTEINE: People who take large doses of niacin to lower cholesterol have a marked elevation of homocysteine, a risk factor for heart attacks.  Here is how it happens: Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids.  The B vitamin, Niacin, is part of the enzyme that converts an amino acid, cysteine, into homocysteine.

Three other B vitamins, folic acid (B9), cobalamin (B12), and niacin (B3)} protect you from accumulating too much homocysteine by breaking down homocysteine and converting it to cysteine.  Therefore, when you take large doses of niacin, you also have to take large doses of the other three vitamins to protect you from accumulating homocysteine.  Nobody really knows how to balance large doses of vitamins when you take them in pills.  I think that it is safer to depend on nature to provide the proper balance of vitamins in foods.

MY RECOMMENDATIONS: I do not believe that taking one vitamin pill a day is harmful.  I do believe that taking large doses of vitamins can harm you.  I also believe that you do not need to take vitamin pills. Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts.  Some people need to take vitamins D or B12, but you should be able to get B12 from fish or chicken, and get your vitamin D from sunlight if possible.

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Comments

Comment from Dan Anderson
Time September 9, 2011 at 9:18 am

Jess,
How do you feel about fish oil or other omega supplements?
Thanks,
Dan

Comment from Dr. Jess
Time September 9, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Hi Dan,

I’m a big fan of Omega 3 Fatty Acid supplements if you are not eating cold water fish or algae, unless research tells me otherwise. I’ve only seen research so far suggesting it’s supplementation.