Dr. Rath Health Foundation

Dr. Rath Health Foundation

Responsibility for a healthy world Dr. Rath Research Institute 100+ Studies Published In PubMed

The Truth About Vitamins

by Dr. Aleksandra Niedzwiecki, Matthias Rath Inc.
Berlin, Germany / June 2000

How safe do you feel taking your next medication, knowing that hundreds of thousands of people die each year from serious reactions to drugs? No matter how exhaustive medical research and testing criteria appear to be, there is no such thing as a harmless pharmaceutical drug.

Ironically, TV programs, newspaper and magazine articles warn you that taking vitamins and other nutrients can be hazardous to your health. The media often refer to vitamins as "unregulated" substances implying that they can be dangerous.

Even if you take vitamins yourself and have experienced an improvement in your health, you may feel confused about the conflicting information. Are the negative reports really true? To clear up any misgivings you may have once and for all, I would like to present some facts regarding the safety of vitamins and compare them to the real dangers of pharmaceutical drugs.

Let's start with a definition of the terms pharmaceutical and vitamin. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary the word pharmacology is derived from a Greek work pharmakeia which means magic charm, poison which is an accurate definition. In contrast, the word vitamin combines vita, which means life and amine - which means the chemical characteristics of a substance.

Defining "vitamin" as essential for life. Since vitamins are essential for life, everyone has to be sure that they are taken in sufficient amounts.

But what are sufficient amounts?

The recommended daily intake, or RDA, of most vitamins and minerals was established about 60 years ago and is beyond antiquated. And, it only addresses vitamin deficiency symptoms, not their optimal intake for health, and it is frequently based on inadequate studies:

Did you know that the recommendation of 60 mg a day of vitamin C is based on a questionable study of six prisoners, conducted in the late 1940s?

This recommendation has only recently been revised, when the Institute of Medicine proposed increasing the recommended daily intake it to 90 mg., which insures that this change has no real health benefit to anyone.

So, how much vitamin C do we need to stay healthy?

A well-designed study conducted in 1996 by the National Institute of Health recommended at least 220 mg of vitamin C a day for young men consuming ideal diets. But what about older people, cigarette smokers, those who have to cope with stress, who live in polluted urban areas, or suffer from diseases? For people who fall into these categories the demands for vitamin C increase tremendously.

Health authorities recommend that zoo monkeys, whom, like humans, cannot produce their own vitamin C, need about 900 mg supplemented in their diets.

We should be more concerned with vitamin insufficiency, than with over-consumption. According to the 2nd National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, in the US, a country with high economic levels and nutrition awareness, between 50%-80% of people consume less than official recommendation of vitamins C, E, A, and D. The standards for the official recommendations of these vitamins is very low, to start with.

Studies repeatedly confirm that our diets are largely deficient in folic acid, B vitamins, niacin, zinc, calcium, and many other nutrients. So, instead of eliminating basic nutrient deficiencies, we are being confused with ostensible problems of vitamin excess.

However, we need vitamins and, we often need them in doses that are higher than currently recommended by the authorities.

Even very large doses of vitamins are generally safe. These nutrients are already contained in our bodies and they need to be constantly replenished. They are naturally absorbed so our bodies will use what they need and discard the rest. In case of vitamin C there have been almost a dozen recently published placebo-controlled, double-blind studies showing no adverse effects in people who take even 10 g of this nutrient for several years. Many cancer patients were taking 150-200 g, which is 150,000 to 200,000 mg of vitamin C a day by IV injections, without any evidence of toxicity. In fact, the results were just the opposite, these doses were helpful in curing the spread of cancer in the body.

Also, other vitamins such as B vitamins, which our body needs primarily for various energy generating processes, are safe in a wide dosage range. The review of scientific research on this subject published by Dr. Bendich in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences concluded that there were no adverse reactions from taking 3 mg of vitamin B12 (this is about 1800 times the current official recommendation), vitamin B6 up to 500 mg (250 times the recommended level), vitamin B2 taken at daily doses of 200 mg (which is about 130 times higher than the recommended intake) and B1 (about 35 times the recommended RDA).

Many people, perhaps you as well, take supplemental vitamin B3, also known as nicotinic acid, for a natural control of their cholesterol levels. Some of those who took a large dose at once might have experienced a transient feeling of a hot flash. This reaction can be avoided if the vitamin dose is increased gradually or if vitamin B3 is taken in the form of niacinimide. In general, nicotinic acid can be taken in doses that exceed 50-150 times the official recommendation without any adverse effects.

Even vitamins that are not quickly eliminated by the body, such as fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, are safe in large doses.

For example, vitamin A, which is essential for vision, growth and repair of the body tissues, has beneficial effects when taken in doses about 5,000 to 10,000 IU a day. Its daily intake was tested in doses higher than that in people with specific health problems. In our body, vitamin A is produced from another nutrient, beta-carotene, which is a yellow pigment of fruits and vegetables. If we take beta-carotene, our body automatically converts it into the quantity of vitamin A it needs and eliminates the excess.

Another fat-soluble vitamin, Vitamin E, has health benefits when taken at daily doses exceeding our current RDAs. Not only is vitamin E safe at high intake levels, but there are no known adverse reactions even at doses of 3000 IU or higher, for prolonged periods. This is more than 200 times the official recommendation. When it is consumed at high doses, health benefits to heart disease, diabetes and other problems become apparent. But it is impossible to obtain such high amounts from diet alone, vitamin supplements are absolutely necessary.

Because of inadequate training at medical schools, many doctors look at vitamins as individual substances just as they look at pharmaceutical drugs.

However, in our body, vitamins work as a team and they cooperate with each other for a maximum effect. For instance, you do not need to take extreme amounts of vitamin E if you take vitamin C as well. Vitamin C can recycle vitamin E in the body, compensating for its inadequate intake. It also cooperates with other nutrients, such as antioxidants lipoic acid and glutathione, vitamin B3 and coenzyme Q10.

New information about ostensible vitamin danger is promoted very quickly and becomes commonly accepted without any substantial evidence. A typical example is the popular conception that vitamin C causes kidney stones. Nearly every physician is aware of this "fact," but where is the evidence for it?

Several articles written have spread this myth. But when I looked up the references for the real source of this information, they directed me to books, letters, but not to any reputable clinical data. The citations in the books referred again to the same sources and to other books. So one author makes a statement and cites another author who did the same.

But what is the actual evidence? Three case control studies did not show any association between vitamin C and kidney stones. Another study conducted in 1997 on 45,000 men showed that those consuming 1.5 g, of vitamin C a day actually had a lower frequency of kidney stones than those who took only 250 mg of this vitamin A study published last year by Harvard University researchers on 85,000 women also concluded that there is a lack of correlation between vitamin C intake and kidney stones.

Now that you should no longer doubt that vitamins are safe, let's look at how they compare to some commonly used drugs, which you always thought were safe.

Consider the popular drug, aspirin. You often reach for it to calm pain or headache. But be careful! If you exceed an aspirin dose by 10 times a severe reaction from salicylate poisoning can occur.

Also, be concerned if you suffer from arthritis and take aspirin frequently in low doses. With time you may develop a stomach ulcer, or your arthritis may actually worsen because aspirin damages collages and erodes cartilage in your joints.

In the case of a stronger drug such as digitalis, which is used to regulate the heartbeat, a dose of 2 times the recommended amount can create a life-threatening condition and the precise problem that the drug is supposed to help: An irregular heartbeat.

These are examples of overdosing on medication, but, unfortunately, you do not even need to overdose on a drug to endanger your health. Every pharmaceutical drug has side effects. Most pharmaceutical drugs are particularly detrimental to the liver, where most of them are eliminated, and they are also dangerous to the kidneys.

The fact that drugs have to be registered, or that they have been approved by the FDA, does not mean that they are safe. More than half of the approved drugs have serious side effects not detected prior to approval for sale to the public. Many more side effects surface when drugs are over-used, pushed by million-dollar pharmaceutical company ad campaigns.

According to a finding published in the Journal of the American Medical Association the safety of more than 5000 drugs already on the market in the US are monitored by a small staff that includes only nine health professionals.

As a result of the negligence regarding drug safety, deaths from known side effects of pharmaceutical medications became the fourth leading cause of mortality last year, right after heart disease, cancer and stroke!

In addition to 100,000 people who die each year as a result of taking medication, about 90,000 more die as a result of medical errors. The harm to our bodies from medical treatment has become so common that there is even a name for it: iatrogenic disease. Taking into account that doctorÕs reports of prescribed drug side effects in their patients are only voluntary, and according to the Federal Drug Administration only 1% of adverse effects or serious problems are reported, we are facing a pharmaceutical epidemic. Frightening, isn't it?

The drug industry targets aggressive drug advertising to patients so they will demand specific products from their doctors. This kind of public campaign is very effective. In 1997 the industry spent more than $900 million on national advertising campaigns.

This was twice the amount spent on ads geared towards doctors in all the medical journals combined. Then, when drugs caused harm, the doctors were blamed. A good example is the recent disaster with the weight loss drug Phen-Fen. A major national advertising and publicity campaign was targeted to women who then went to their doctors asking for the drug. In a short time it was forced off the market when a third of the patients taking it had serious side effects. It was finally found that 31% had heart damage as a result of taking it. This drug is typical of what happens daily around the country, but generally the doctor, when alerted, will just prescribe a different drug and not report the complaint to anyone, putting future consumers at risk.

As a woman I cannot remain silent on how marketing of estrogen drugs to menopausal women compromises their health and lives. Perhaps many of you have been advised by your doctor to take estrogen as a remedy for hot flashes, to prevent osteoporosis, heart disease, or even to preserve youth.

Because you need to take this drug for several years have you thoroughly discussed all the risks and benefits of taking estrogen with your doctor?

If you havenÕt, then you probably don't know that the results of the largest study ever undertaken of estrogen's effects in menopausal women have recently been published. It confirmed that taking estrogen increases the risk of heart attack by 50%! It also doubles the risk of forming blood clots in the lung arteries.

The risk of breast and uterine cancers from taking estrogen has been known for a long time, as well as the risk of gallbladder disease and liver damage. Possible benefits of estrogen such as prevention of osteoporosis can be easily obtained by safe, natural means such as calcium, vitamin C and other dietary supplements. There are also natural remedies for hot flashes.

Why then are vitamins under such scrutiny, but not all synthetic drugs? You know the answer: Our health has been monopolized by the pharmaceutical industry, which has successfully lobbied the medical profession, media, and our politicians.

If the Microsoft monopoly in the computer market has been considered a threat to long term progress in computer technology, what about the monopoly of pharmaceutical companies on our health? For decades they have relentlessly fought and eliminated competitive natural approaches, especially those that proved to be successful.

I have scientific research experience in many areas ranging from molecular biology technologies to cell metabolism. I studied vitamin functions in heart disease and other health problems, and I am telling you it is time to have a fresh look at medicine on a global scale. The pharmaceutical dinosaur has violated the ethical standards of medicine, medicine that must be of service to people's needs, not to exploit their misery. We must work together to shape the medicine of the future: medicine based on scientifically proven natural health programs that are safe, that prevent and cure diseases, that are cost effective and accessible to people, that are not blocked by special interests and unethical measures.