Supplement Pitfalls

Supplements are not always what they pretend to be. A plausible theory exists that vitamin E, an anti-oxidant, would prevent cardiovascular disease including stroke.

The results of prospective randomized trials (that’s the good ones), however, have been mostly negative and some have even suggested harm, including excess risk for hemorrhagic stroke.

In this meta-analysis of nine randomized placebo-controlled trials with nearly119,000 participants, investigators evaluated the effect of vitamin E supplementation on risk of ischemic (“blood clot”) and hemorrhagic (“bleeding”) stroke.
Seven trials provided information on overall stroke, and five trials provided information on ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke.

Vitamin E had NO effect on risk of overall stroke. Risk for ischemic stroke was 10 % lower and risk for hemorrhagic stroke 22 % higher in vitamin E recipients as compared to placebo recipients – these were statistically significant results. Absolute figures though were very small: to prevent one ischemic stroke, 476 people would have to take vitamin E supplementation for at least one year. And 1250 people would need to take vitamin E to cause one hemorrhagic stroke (BMJ 2010 Nov 4; 341:c5702).

Vitamin E has no effect on preventing overall strokes, has minimal preventative effect on ischemic stroke and raises the risk for hemorrhagic stroke. These results are hardly a good reason for the widespread use of vitamin E supplements.

As a professional, one needs to point out, that the “American way of life” (making up for MacDonald meals by taking mega-doses of all sorts of synthetic vitamins) may increase risk for certain health problems (big news?).

One knows that vitamin D can promote cancer of the lung, calcium promotes arteriosclerosis and vitamin E hemorrhagic stroke – did the cashier at the health food store/supermarket/pharmacy tell you that?

Admittedly: absolute risk is normally rather low, but does one want to take ANY risk of that sort when trying to improve one’s health?
Do consider the vitamin business an extremely lucrative source of income which surfs on people’s health concerns in an industrialized world. Just listen to the fabulous term “anti-oxidant “… – does it not sound of  “anti-corrosion”, “anti-aching-joints” and the so sought-after eternal youth?

As a professional one knows that there are other ways of staying healthy.
These ways are not sold on Internet and they may require life style changes. And, unfortunately, they are more labour intensive than popping a vitamin pill. AND more costly… because you would have to come and see me first!

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