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Are Vitamins and Supplements Bad For You?

A noted physician has waged war on the vitamin industry

"If you take large quantities of vitamin A, vitamin E, beta carotene [or] selenium, you increase your risk of cancer, risk of heart disease, and you could shorten your life," Dr. Paul Offit, a researcher at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia says. And, he means business.

Offit, who's best known to us non-scientist types as the doctor who's been defending vaccines from naysayer activists like Jenny McCarthy (who believes there's a link between them and autism), has written a new book called, "Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine" and he's determined to make people stand up and take notice of his findings.

At issue is how much we all seek a magic bullet to keep us healthy. This excerpt from an interview he gave The Guardian offers insight into his rationale as to why we don't need to take vitamins.

"You need vitamins to convert food into energy. The question is how best to get them. Most people who eat a reasonable diet will get everything they need in the food that they eat. But there are some people who have special diets -- for example vegans or those who live in climates where it's never sunny -- who would benefit from supplemental vitamins. But, for the most part, we get what we need in foods.

Other people think: "Because I'm not sure I'm getting all my vitamins, let me just take a multivitamin every day" -- which is OK. Multivitamins contain at or about the recommended dose of vitamins for that day. But then there are some people who believe that more is better -- that by taking large quantities of daily vitamins they will do even better, live even longer and decrease the risk of cancer or heart disease. But in fact, many studies have shown that the exact opposite is true -- that if you choose to take these large quantities of excess vitamins, then you increase risk of cancer and heart disease and shorten your life."

Offit maintains that we all think that vitamins can't possibly be bad for us when they're supposed to be fundamentally healthy. We, according to the doctor, are wrong.

"Look at the root of the word: 'Vita' means life. I think people can't imagine you could ever get too much of a good thing. But the second thing is that this industry is very good at projecting the idea that this product lives under an untouchable halo.

It's a matter of perception. If you go into a General Nutrition Center, you can get a preparation, which contains 3,333% of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin E. In fact, that's a typical Vitamin E preparation that's available. If you open up the bottle and take out one capsule, you'll find that it's smaller than an almond. And, in fact, almonds are a good source of Vitamin E. One almond has about 2% of the recommended daily allowance. But to get to 33 times the daily-recommended allowance, you would need to eat about 1,700 almonds -- or about 17 pounds of almonds.

And when you do things like this, when you take 33 times the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin E, you are messing around with Mother Nature. I think if people saw that one capsule as 1,700 almonds, they would be hesitant to take it. But they don't see it that way."

Of course, as with any such hot button issue, this book -- and the press he's been doing to support it -- has many supporters and detractors. We are programmed to believe what we hear on the news, read in magazines and to follow our physicians' recommendations, so many of us simply do as we're told without questioning it. Then, we hear something utterly contrary to what we've bought as gospel and it sends us for a loop.

What do you think of Dr. Offit's premise? Do you take vitamins and supplements? Will you continue to do so without giving it any further thought or has this argument created some doubt?


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