Do large doses of vitamins really help ward off health problems, including insomnia, fatigue, digestive disorders, and impaired immune system? A number of recent scientific studies challenge the long-held popular belief in the disease-preventing power of vitamin pills, which cost Americans $23 billion a year, Tara Parker-Pope reports in a New York Times article.
A study published last October showed that taking vitamin E or selenium does not prevent prostate cancer. In a separate study in November, scientists found that neither vitamin E nor vitamin C reduces the risk for cardiovascular diseases for men. Most recently, Women’s Health Initiative released a report in February 2009 that found no connection between vitamin usage and prevention of cancer or heart disease in women.
Not only have scientists discovered that, contrary to public belief, vitamins generally do not prevent or treat diseases, they found harmful effects of vitamin pills – beta carotene users are at greater risk for lung cancer, and those who take folic acid are more likely to have precancerous polyps than those who don’t.
If high doses of vitamin pills aren’t proven to prevent diseases and can potentially be harmful to our health, where else do we turn to avoid vitamin deficiency? Dr. Peter Gann, professor and director of research at the University of Illinois at Chicago, suggests a healthful and balanced diet that includes whole fruits or vegetables, since “[there] may not be a single component of broccoli or green leafy vegetables that is responsible for the health benefits.”
The American public should not throw out their vitamins just yet. Researchers are still studying the benefits of high doses of some promising vitamin extracts, for example, Vitamin D’s potential in reducing risks for cancer. But they again warn that “[w]e should wait for large-scale clinical trials before jumping on the vitamin bandwagon and taking high doses.”