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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Orthomolecular Medicine News Service, November 9, 2005
HOW SAFE ARE VITAMINS?
(OMNS) The most elementary of forensic arguments is, where are the bodies?
The 2003 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers Toxic Exposures Surveillance System (1) states that there have been only two deaths allegedly caused by vitamins. Almost half of all Americans take nutritional supplements every day, some 145,000,000 individual doses daily, for a total of over 53 billion doses annually. And from that, two alleged deaths? That is a product safety record without equal.
Conversely, pharmaceutical drugs, properly prescribed and taken as directed, kill 106,000 Americans each year. That is over 2,000 each week, dead from their prescriptions. (2) Some physicians estimate the true number of drug-induced deaths to be far higher. (3)
Fatalities are by no means limited to drug products. In the USA in the year 2003, there was a death from “Cream / lotion / makeup,” a death from “Granular laundry detergent,” one death from plain soap, one death from baking soda, and one death from table salt.
Other deaths reported by the American Association of Poison Control Centers included:
- aspirin: 59 deaths
- aerosol air fresheners: 2 deaths
- perfume/cologne/aftershave: 2 deaths
- charcoal: 3 deaths
- dishwashing detergent: 3 deaths
- (and interestingly, weapons of mass destruction: 0 deaths)
On the other hand, nutritional supplements have proven to be exceptionally safe. Specifically:
- There were no deaths from B-complex vitamin supplements.
- There were no deaths from niacin.
- There were no deaths from vitamin A.
- There were no deaths from vitamin D.
- There were no deaths from vitamin E.
There was, supposedly, one alleged death from vitamin C and one alleged death from vitamin B-6. The accuracy of such attribution is highly questionable, as water-soluble vitamins such as B-6 (pyridoxine) and vitamin C (ascorbate) have excellent safety records extending back for many decades. The 2003 Toxic Exposures Surveillance System report states that reported deaths are “probably or undoubtedly related to the exposure,” an admission of uncertainty in the reporting. (p 340)
Even if true, such events are aberrations. For example, previous American Association of Poison Control Centers’ Toxic Exposure Surveillance System reports show zero fatalities from either vitamins C or B-6.
VITAMINS SAVE LIVES
The Journal of the American Medical Association has published the recommendation that every person take a multivitamin daily saying that “(S)uboptimal intake of some vitamins, above levels causing classic vitamin deficiency, is a risk factor for chronic diseases and common in the general population, especially the elderly.” (4) It is a sensible idea whose time should have come generations ago.
It is curious that, while theorizing many “potential” dangers of vitamins, critics fail to point out how economical supplements are. For low-income households, taking a two-cent vitamin C tablet and a five-cent multivitamin, readily obtainable from any discount store, is vastly cheaper than getting those vitamins by eating right. The uncomfortable truth is that it is often less expensive to supplement than to buy nutritious food, especially out-of-season fresh produce.
According to David DeRose, M.D., M.P.H., “300,000 Americans die annually from poor nutrition choices.” (5) Supplements make any dietary lifestyle, whether good or bad, significantly better. Supplements are an easy, practical entry-level better-nutrition solution for the public, who are more likely to take convenient vitamin tablets than to willingly eat organ meats, wheat germ, and ample vegetables. Scare-stories notwithstanding, taking supplements is not the problem; it is a solution. Malnutrition is the problem.
Public supplementation should be encouraged, not discouraged. Supplements are a cost-effective means of preventing and ameliorating illness. Vitamin safety has been, and remains, extraordinarily high.
1. American Journal of Emergency Medicine, Vol. 22, No. 5, September 2004. (http://www.aapcc.org/Annual%20Reports/03report/Annual%20Report%202003.pdf)
2. Lucian Leape, Error in medicine. Journal of the American Medical Association, 1994, 272:23, p 1851. Also: Leape LL. Institute of Medicine medical error figures are not exaggerated. JAMA. 2000 Jul 5;284(1):95-7.
3. Dean C and Tuck T. Death by modern medicine. Belleville, ON: Matrix Verite, 2005.
4. Fletcher RH and Fairfield KM. Vitamins for chronic disease prevention in adults: Clinical applications JAMA. 2002; 287:3127-3129. And: Fairfield KM and Fletcher RH. Vitamins for chronic disease prevention in adults: Scientific review. JAMA. 2002; 287:3116-3126.
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