“If you take large quantities of vitamin A, beta carotene or selenium you increase your risk of cancer, risk of heart disease, and you could shorten your life,” says Dr. Paul Offit, a researcher at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
In recent years, many large studies have shown that vitamins and dietary supplements rarely help, and often hurt says Offit. However, a large number of people still think these products will improve their health.
Offit, an infectious disease specialist and the co-inventor of a rotavirus vaccine, is well known for publicly challenging groups that claim a link between childhood vaccines and autism. He has often found himself pitted against actress Jenny McCarthy who became a spokeswoman for the anti-vaccine movement.
Offit believes a large problem with supplements is a 1994 law that exempts them from the tighter security the FDA applies to regulation of medicines. For example, the makers of a garlic supplement can say that it “supports cardiovascular health” even though a government study found that garlic supplements did not lower cholesterol. However, Offit says patients clearly benefit from many FDA-approved statin drugs that actually do what garlic supplements claim to do. Many hospitals include unproved dietary supplements in their list of medicines available to patients. Offit points out that his own institution, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia plans to remove nearly all supplements from it’s list later this month.
Dietary supplements are often labeled as “natural.” Take almonds for example – you would need to eat 17 pounds of almonds to get the amount of vitamin E in a single capsule sold by one manufacturer. Offits asks, “So how is this a natural thing to do?”
Speaking in Washington, D.C. on Monday, Offit talked about his new book, Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine…..NPR Health 7/23/13