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If Dr. Offit Had His Way, Vitamins Would Be Treated as Drugs

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Health Issues page and our Nutri-Con Campaign page.

The New York Times has published another shameful op-ed bashing nutritional supplements. Here's our response.

This week, Dr. Paul A. Offit, chief of the infectious diseases division of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (and author of a forthcoming book called, hilariously enough, Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine), wrote a piece for the New York Times called "Don't Take Your Vitamins."

In his article, Dr. Offit states, "Nutrition experts argue that people need only the recommended daily allowance -the amount of vitamins found in a routine diet. Vitamin manufacturers argue that a regular diet doesn't contain enough vitamins, and that more is better." This statement is offensive (not to mention patently incorrect) on multiple levels:

• We do not get enough nutrients from our food. The soil in factory farms is depleted of nutrients, resulting in less nutritious vegetables. The runoff from CAFOs and their animals, together with the pesticide residue on plants, produce foodstuffs that are considerably less safe and healthful than their organic counterparts. 

• Many Americans do not eat a healthy diet, and instead consume primarily processed foods-resulting in severe nutrient deficiency. A 2005 USDA report found that 93% of Americans have an inadequate intake of vitamin E, 56% have an inadequate intake of magnesium, 44% have an inadequate intake of vitamin A, 31% have an inadequate intake of vitamin C, 14% have an inadequate intake of vitamin B6, 12% have an inadequate intake of zinc, and 8% have an inadequate intake of folate. 

• The notion that "nutrition experts" agree with the recommended daily allowances (RDAs) is absurd-the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics adhere slavishly to RDAs. The vast majority of nutritionists and naturopaths provide treatment through vitamin and mineral supplementation, often recommending dosages well above the RDA. 

• In fact, RDAs are not the best way to determine optimal levels of vitamin and mineral intake. RDAs are based on extraordinarily conservative recommendations from the Institute of Medicine and spring from a deeply flawed risk assessment approach. As Robert Verkerk, executive and scientific director at ANH-Int'l, notes in his critique of this approach, there is a "tendency for risk assessments to be undertaken on 'nutrient groups,' rather than discrete 'nutrient forms,' despite considerable variation in biological response between nutrients within given groups." For example, a risk approach that analyzes one more potentially dangerous form of niacin at higher dosages (nicotinic acid) discriminates against other forms of the same nutrient (inositol hexanicotinate). 

•  Dr. Offit fails to distinguish between using nutritional supplements to maintain optimal health versus using supplements just to prevent disease (e.g., rickets), which is a much lower bar. He also ignores the fact that each individual has different nutritional needs and therefore different supplementation needs.

Dr. Offit cites a few studies indicating that vitamin E is linked to an increased risk of mortality, heart failure, and prostate cancer. Yet ANH-USA won a qualified health claim-in court, based on science-that vitamin E may actually reduce the risk of cancer!