Vitamin C

Searching for Willard Scott

Here we go again.

Earlier this month, a widely reported study concluded that high
doses of vitamin E supplements might increase the risk of death
(see the e-Alert “The Purest Bunk” 11/16/04).

This flawed research was followed just days later with a study that
delivered a disturbing conclusion about vitamin C supplements.

Did I say “disturbing”? Actually the conclusion is disturbing only
until you look at the details. So stop the presses, hold the scare
headlines, and whatever you do, don’t toss out your vitamin C.

Stretching the point

If you’re one of the millions of women who have diabetes, you
might have been alarmed to come across media reports stating
simply that vitamin C may increase mortality in diabetic women.
But it turns out that there’s a lot more to it than that. And a lot less

Writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers
at the University of Minnesota (UM) observed that under “certain
circumstances” vitamin C may have prooxidant properties (the
opposite of antioxidant), and may glycate protein (which can cause
tissue damage in diabetics). Their hypothesis: A high intake of
vitamin C in diabetics might promote atherosclerosis (narrowing of
the arteries).

The UM team collected 15 years of data on about 1,900 women
who participated in the Iowa Women’s Health Study. All of the
women were postmenopausal and diabetic, but none had been
diagnosed with coronary artery disease (CAD) at the outset of the
study. Researchers examined the relation of vitamin C intake to
mortality from CAD, stroke and cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Their conclusion: Postmenopausal, diabetic women with a high
vitamin C supplement intake had an increased risk of CVD

So What’s wrong with this picture? Plenty.

Back up the sludge truck

Once again I turned to HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., for his
take on this most recent attack on one of the most important
vitamins we need for optimal health.

Dr. Spreen started off by quoting the UM study: “Vitamin C acts
as a potent antioxidant.” But the researchers go on to say that the
vitamin might be bad because “it can also be a prooxidant under
certain circumstances in vitro.”

Dr. Spreen: “Let’s be clear here, ‘in vitro’ means in a laboratory
test tube, not in humans, and ‘under certain circumstances’ means
you have to work at it, even in the tube.

“But, true to their concern, they generated a study. Remembering
that the best designed studies are those that keep everything the
same except for the one thing being studied so that distorting
factors don’t muddy the water, we find that our intrepid
investigators had just a thing or two to ‘adjust’
for. Specifically: ‘cardiovascular disease risk factors, type of
diabetes medication used, duration of diabetes, and intakes of
folate, vitamin E, and beta-carotene.’

“I mean, that’s not muddying the water, that’s sludge.

“I guess it’s always possible that the nutrient could be doing
something none of us has ever seen before, but then, why not in
young men? older men? diabetic men? young women? non-
diabetic older women? diabetic young women?

“Sorry, not impressed.”

Ruling out possibilities

And there are even more reasons to be unimpressed.

For instance, CVD is the leading cause of death among diabetics,
no matter what supplements they may or may not be taking.

The UM team also noted that the only other study of vitamin C
supplements among diabetics used data from the Nurse’s Health
Study and found supplements of the vitamin to have a beneficial

And finally, the researchers admit that, “we cannot totally rule out
the possibility that our findings occurred by chance because of the
small number of cases in some subgroups.”

When our medical researchers start to make our weathermen look
accurate, we know we’re in trouble.

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and another thing

There’s no better time than the holiday season to make an extra
effort to support our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A colleague sent me an e-mail this week with this message: “I’ve
come across a service designed to send care packages to troops
who don’t get much mail from home. They have pre-made baskets
you can send. Apparently there are only a couple of weeks left to
send something in order to get it over there by Christmas.”

The service referred to is called Any Soldier Inc. But don’t let the
“Inc.” fool you – this is a grassroots organization started by one
soldier – Sgt. Brian Horn, an Army Infantry Soldier from LaPlata,
Maryland, who launched an effort to distribute mail to soldiers
who weren’t receiving any.

Any Soldier Inc. now has more than 700 contacts in the Army,
Navy, Air Force and Marines who help get mail and care packages
through to as many soldiers as possible. So the contacts are in
place – all that’s needed now is support from home.

If you’d like to participate, just go to and follow
the easy steps to send items that soldiers need.

And don’t forget to spread the word to your friends. It’s a perfect
way to remind our soldiers just how grateful we are for the
sacrifices they make.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute


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