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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Blinded with science ...9:49 pm

So, a new study of previous studies indicates that use of common dietary supplements such as Vitamin A, Beta Carotene and Vitamin E may shorten one’s life.

Our systematic review contains a number of findings. Beta carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E given singly or combined with other antioxidant supplements significantly increase mortality. There is no evidence that vitamin C may increase longevity. We lack evidence to refute a potential negative effect of vitamin C on survival. Selenium tended to reduce mortality, but we need more research on this question,” the authors write.

“Our findings contradict the findings of observational studies, claiming that antioxidants improve health. Considering that 10 percent to 20 percent of the adult population (80-160 million people) in North America and Europe may consume the assessed supplements, the public health consequences may be substantial. We are exposed to intense marketing with a contrary statement, which is also reflected by the high number of publications per included randomized trial found in the present review.”

“There are several possible explanations for the negative effect of antioxidant supplements on mortality. Although oxidative stress has a hypothesized role in the pathogenesis of many chronic diseases, it may be the consequence of pathological conditions. By eliminating free radicals from our organism, we interfere with some essential defensive mechanisms . Antioxidant supplements are synthetic and not subjected to the same rigorous toxicity studies as other pharmaceutical agents. Better understanding of mechanisms and actions of antioxidants in relation to a potential disease is needed,” the researchers conclude.

Well, this study is hardly the last word on the subject, as the researchers themselves acknowledge, but it’s another chance to ponder the position that scientific conventional wisdom occupies in our lives, sometimes at our own mortal – not to mention moral — peril. For many decades, the value to one’s health of taking vitamins has been considered beyond reasonable debate. Certainly, there has been debate at the fringes — for instance: should you take just the official recommended dose, or “mega-doses”? And to what extent is getting the vitamins from actual food better than getting them from pills? But the idea that taking a vitamin E supplement might actually cause you to die sooner has not been anywhere on the radar. Maybe in a few years this will be the new conventional wisdom, and any remaining true-believers in mega-dose vitamins will have to furtively deal for them in back alleys.

To think of all that money spent on vitamins by so many down through the years, perhaps only ultimately resulting in shortened lives — I guess it’s a small reminder of where one’s complete trust shouldn’t reside.

Well, you’re on your own, you always were,
In a land of wolves and thieves.
Don’t put your hope in ungodly man
Or be a slave to what somebody else believes.

(And I wonder when the class-action lawsuits start?)

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