Are vitamin supplements effective?

The court will now turn over “The Case Against Vitamins” to the defense.

An HSI member named Stacey writes: “I recently was forwarded a March 20, 2006, Wall Street Journal article by Tara Parker-Pope – subject: ‘The case against vitamins’. I would love to hear your response to this.”

For anyone who wants to believe that vitamins and other dietary supplements are ineffective and even dangerous, this is the article for them. The author cherry picks study results and comments from “experts” to create a perfect rationale for avoiding vitamin supplements.

It would be much too tedious to go through the article and defend each negative detail (almost all the cited studies have been examined and debunked in previous e-Alerts anyway). But a couple of interesting comments stand out.

Early in her article, Parker-Pope states that the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) of the National Academy of Sciences is “the top U.S. authority for nutritional recommendations.” And Parker-Pope notes that the FNB “has concluded that taking antioxidant supplements serves no purpose.”

No purpose. Pointless. Ineffective.

I’ll come back to that assessment in a moment. Let’s move on to what Parker-Pope describes as “one theory” about free radicals. She cites no experts or research to support this theory, but it goes like this: Free radicals may in fact play an important role by prompting the immune system into action. Parker-Pope writes: “It may be that vitamins clean up the free-radical mess, but the immune system isn’t alerted to fix the damage, allowing disease to set in.”

Now, what completely negates this theory? The assessment by “the top U.S. authority for nutritional recommendations” that antioxidant supplements are ineffective.

Parker-Pope seems to want it both ways. Antioxidants are ineffective, but they may also be SO effective that they’re dangerous.

The article concludes with an observation by Dr. Edgar R. Miller, a clinical investigator for the National Institute on Aging. Dr. Miller notes that some people are passionate about their vitamins, and then he slams the door: “I don’t know where they get it from, but it’s not based on scientific evidence.”

For those of you who have taken supplements for years and feel better, have more energy and seem to get over illness fasterwell, you’re going to have to rely on your own experiences, because according to Dr. Miller there’s just not enough science to tell us you’re right.

“Health Journal: The Case Against Vitamins” Tara Parker-Pope, The Wall Street Journal, 3/20/06,