Too many vitamins may be harmful

This week in the HSI Forum

“Jenny, how about this article?”

That’s the title of a recent thread on the HSI Forum in which a member named Roberta asked for my take on a New York Times article titled “Vitamins: More May Be Too Many.”

I recently sent you an e-Alert (“The Sky Is Falling!” 5/13/03) about a report from the Food Standards Agency (FSA – the UK’s counterpart to the FDA), warning that many vitamins shouldn’t be taken in prolonged high dosage, while exclaiming that some vitamins may cause “irreversible harmful effects.”

The NY Times article that Roberta refers to appeared in late April and is apparently in no way related to the FSA report, except in its sweeping generalities that seem designed to frighten more than inform. These are the kinds of articles that raise fears about regulatory agencies in the U.S., the U.K., the European Union and other countries that may be working behind the scenes with global pharmaceutical companies and associations like the World Health Organization to restrict the availability of dietary supplements.

When I read an article like this one in the NY Times, followed so closely by U.K. articles about the FSA report, I have to admit that it does seem like something is going on. On the thread that Roberta started, a member named Jeff agrees, saying: “I can fill this forum up until it explodes with studies like this from the ‘authorities.’ Most of us are here [on the Forum] because we know from experience that much of what is discussed here does in fact make a positive difference and that most of the mainstream swill is designed to evoke panic and hopelessness. There are interests that do NOT have your interests in mind and they will do everything to protect their status quo!”

Jeff may have something there (and it certainly is an issue to be deeply concerned about) but to give Roberta the response that she asked for, I would rather avoid the fear and state these obvious facts:

  • Yes, some supplements can be harmful when taken at high dosages. Iron, for instance, and vitamin A (but not beta-carotene) should be taken only in moderate amounts. But to make vague and insupportable generalities (such as, “An excess of vitamins can increase the risk of disease.”) is irresponsible. Drinking too much water can harm you, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid water.
  • Pronouncements by “experts” that we don’t yet have evidence that vitamins are beneficial are simply wrong. We do have evidence from numerous studies reported in a variety of journals, including mainstream journals that certainly don’t go out of their way to promote the use of vitamins.
  • The average person does not get enough healthy nutrients in his diet. Supplements provide the extra boost of nutrients that most of us need to achieve good health.

The community of the HSI Forum is a perfect place to look for the everyday truth about supplements. When people state their needs, share their experiences, and tell about their successes, it’s time for the experts to sit down and listen.

Other topics you might be interested in on the HSI Forum this week:

  • A thread titled “Blood Pressure” that specifically addresses dietary concerns in dealing with high blood pressure makes a good companion piece to this past Monday’s e-Alert (“Lowering The High Bar” 5/19/03 – see below) about hypertension.
  • A member named Becky who is caring for someone with type 1 diabetes receives several excellent responses when she confesses that she doesn’t know much about the topic in a thread she titled “Need Help – Diabetes for Dummies Please.”
  • If you’re looking for a good way to include more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, a discussion in a thread titled “Why is Omega-3 in Cod Liver Oil Rarely Mentioned?” weighs the pros and cons of several types of omega-3 supplements.

Go to the HSI web site at and click on “FORUM” where you’ll find more than 100 lively conversations in progress about a wide range of health topics.