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Jerry H. Trachtman
Jerry H. Trachtman
Attorney • (321) 723-8281

Vitamin Supplements: Be Very Careful

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Most of us take, or at some time in our life have taken, vitamin supplements. We see and hear the health claims of many vitamin manufacturers and marketers, and we don’t think of vitamins as medicines or as being potentially harmful. However, some recent medical studies might indicate that not only is there a questionable benefit to taking vitamin supplements, but certain supplements may actually be detrimental to good health. Add to that the fact that there is minimal regulation of the vitamin supplement industry, and the door is left open for potentially disastrous results.

A study to investigate vitamin E’s ability to protect men against prostate cancer was funded in part by the National Cancer Institute and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (National Institutes of Health). The study started in 2001, and involved 35,533 healthy men over age 50 from 427 study sites in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. The results originally reported in 2008 found there was no significant reduction in prostate cancer with Vitamin E supplementation. But the investigators saw a trend toward a higher rate of prostate cancer, and decided to continue following the men after the study ended. The data collected by the study up to July 5, 2011 disclosed a 17% higher incidence of prostate cancer in the men who had taken 400 IU of vitamin E daily. Quite unexpectedly, it was found that not only did vitamin E fail to reduce the risk of prostate cancer, but it actually increased the risk.

A recent report of another study was published in the October 10, 2011 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. This study involved 38,772 women between the ages of 55 and 69 years, with an average age of 61.6 years at the beginning of the investigation. As was expected, most of the vitamin supplements studied were not associated with a reduced total mortality rate. But unexpectedly, vitamin B6 , folic acid, iron, magnesium, and zinc were associated with a 3% to 6% increased risk of death, and copper was associated with an 18% increased risk of death, when compared to corresponding nonuse. Some medical doctors/commentators have suggested that this study adds “to the growing evidence” demonstrating that certain supplements can be harmful. They further state that, “Those supplements do not replace or add to the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables and may cause unwanted health consequences.”

Another report recently published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism brings to light some examples of mislabeling and mis-formulation of vitamin supplements made in the United States. A 58 year old man had been complaining for several weeks of fatigue, excessive thirst, excess urination, and poor mental focus. For two months, he had been taking a vitamin D3 supplement. When the supplement was tested, it was discovered that each capsule contained 186,400 IU of vitamin D3 instead of the 1,600 IU stated on the label. In addition, the instructions on the label mistakenly recommended 10 capsules a day, instead of one. In excess of a thousand times more vitamin D3 than what the manufacturer stated on the label was ingested daily for two months, and it took a year for the vitamin D levels in the body to normalize and for the symptoms to disappear.

Gary Null, Ph.D refers to himself as “America’s leading health and nutrition expert,” markets dietary supplements, and operates health food stores in New York City. In 2010, Mr. Null claimed he was nearly killed by one of his own supplements. He sued the manufacturer with whom he had contracted to produce the supplement, claiming that it contained 1,000 times the labeled dose of vitamin D, caused him kidney damage, severe pain, and led to the hospitalization of six consumers also poisoned by the excessive dose of vitamin D. The Los Angeles Times wrote about Mr. Null’s lawsuit, and noted that it was common for dietary supplements to contain doses “wildly different than those indicated on their label” as a result of weak regulation of the industry.

Most physicians will suggest that a well balanced diet is the surest path to a healthier lifestyle. Before consuming any over the counter vitamin supplements talk to your family physician. If you start taking vitamins and have symptoms or feel that something is not quite right, stop taking them until your doctor eliminates the supplement as the cause.

It’s beginning to look like medical science is catching up with what mom knew all along. Eat your fruits and vegetables.