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Orthomolecular Medicine News Service, August 4, 2008

Gazette's Scaremongering About Vitamins

by Andrew W. Saul

"Can a vitamin kill you?" asks the Montreal Gazette.

According to Evra Taylor Levy and Eddy Lang's article (May 12, 2008), vitamins are murderous little molecules. "Stop taking supplements of vitamins A, E and beta-carotene, plain and simple," they say. Quoting an interpretation of data by researchers with the Cochrane collaboration (1), they would have you believe that vitamins are somehow harmful, and quite possibly deadly.

So where are the bodies? The authors' single, much quoted, much-touted "study" was merely a meta-analysis. A meta-analysis is not a clinical study, but rather a statistical look at a collection of studies. The key to "convenient" statistics is exactly which studies you choose to look at . . . or refuse to look at. If you analyze enough failed studies, you will get a negative meta-analysis. It's a no-brainer. If you exclude enough successful studies, you preordain the conclusion. When you select a mere 67 studies, out of thousands and thousands of existing, positive vitamin supplements studies, something is wrong. Yet that is exactly what the Cochrane review did.

A very large amount of research showing that vitamins are safe and effective was systematically excluded. For example, the study authors never even looked at over 600 scientific studies and papers from the Toronto-based Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal that specifically publishes vitamin therapy research, and has done so for over forty years. They also failed to consider the wealth of reports by experienced doctors, such as distinguished Vancouver physician Abram Hoffer, MD. Dr. Hoffer, who also has a PhD in nutritional biochemistry, said, "Vitamin supplements are extraordinarily safe and effective. This is based on fifty years of clinical experience without seeing any life-threatening side effects and no deaths. It is pharmaceutical drugs that are dangerous. Perhaps the drug industry is getting tired of all the bad news about drugs, so instead they are going after nutritional supplements."

Another British Columbia physician, Erik Paterson, MD, said: "For 33 years I have aggressively prescribed and advocated vitamins in doses vastly higher than the usual government recommendations for my family and my patients. I have never seen any adverse reactions, even though I have been on the alert for them all this time."

71% of Canadians use natural health products. If they are so dangerous, where are all the bodies? Perhaps there aren't any simply because vitamin supplements are indeed safe. Health Canada, under the 2004 Natural Health Products Regulations (4), requires that vitamins and other supplements "must be safe for consideration as over-the-counter products. . . Health Canada ensures that all Canadians have ready access to natural health products that are safe, effective and of high quality." (2)

A 23-year review of US poison control center annual reports (3) confirms the true and largely ignored story: vitamins are extraordinarily safe. The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), which maintains the USA's national database of information from 61 poison control centers, provides data showing that even including intentional and accidental misuse, the number of alleged vitamin fatalities is strikingly low, averaging less than one death per year for more than two decades. In 16 of those 23 years, AAPCC reports that there was not one single death due to vitamins. (3) These statistics specifically include vitamin A, niacin (B-3), pyridoxine (B-6), other B-complex, C, D, E, and "other" vitamin(s), such as vitamin K. Michael Janson, MD, said, "In decades of people taking a wide variety of dietary supplements, few adverse effects have been noted, and zero deaths as a result of the dietary supplements. There is far more risk to public health from people stopping their vitamin supplements than from people taking them."

Supplements are an easy, practical entry-level better-nutrition solution for the public, who are more likely to take convenient vitamin tablets than to willingly eat organ meats, wheat germ, and ample vegetables. Scare-stories notwithstanding, taking supplements is not the problem; it is a solution. Malnutrition is the problem.

It is indeed curious that, while theorizing many "potential" dangers of vitamins, critics fail to point out how economical supplements are. The uncomfortable truth is that it is often less expensive to supplement than to buy nutritious food, especially out-of-season fresh produce. For low-income households, taking vitamin supplements, readily obtainable from any discount store, is vastly cheaper than getting those vitamins by eating right.

The Gazette should know better. Public supplementation should be encouraged, not discouraged. Vitamin supplements have been repeatedly proven to be a cost-effective means of preventing and ameliorating illness.

Where are the bodies? There aren't any. There is not one death per year from any vitamin in the alphabet. Not from A, B's, C, D or E. Vitamin safety has been, and remains, extraordinarily high.


(1) Bjelakovic G et al: Antioxidant supplements for prevention of mortality in healthy participants and patients with various diseases. Cochrane Database Systematic Reviews. 2008 April 16; (2):CD007176.


(3) Annual Reports of the American Association of Poison Control Centers' National Poisoning and Exposure Database (formerly known as the Toxic Exposure Surveillance System). AAPCC, 3201 New Mexico Avenue, Ste. 330, Washington, DC 20016.


Download any report from 1983-2006 at free of charge. The "Vitamin" category is usually near the end of the report.

For additional information:

Evidence of Vitamin Safety: Testimony to Canadian Parliament

Vitamin Safety and Effectiveness

Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine free archive of papers, 1967-2007

Nutritional Medicine is Orthomolecular Medicine

Orthomolecular medicine uses safe, effective nutritional therapy to fight illness. For more information:

The peer-reviewed Orthomolecular Medicine News Service is a non-profit and non-commercial informational resource.

Editorial Review Board:

Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D.
Damien Downing, M.D.
Harold D. Foster, Ph.D.
Steve Hickey, Ph.D.
Abram Hoffer, M.D., Ph.D.
Bo H. Jonsson, MD, PhD
Thomas Levy, M.D., J.D.
Erik Paterson, M.D.

Andrew W. Saul, Ph.D., Editor and contact person. Email:

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