Dr. Cooper’s Response to Recent Vitamin Studies
In a new editorial in Annals of Internal Medicine (Dec. 16, 2013), physicians warn that “most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified and they should be avoided.”
We spoke to our own Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH, on this topic and here are his thoughts:
I’m a strong believer in objective scientific research. In 1984 it was said that exercise did nothing but make you feel good. In the 1970s I began my work to prove that exercise is medicine. Today with our over 600 research articles published on the subject [at The Cooper Institute] we can say for certain that exercise is medicine and has health benefits. On exercise we have bridged the gap between faddism and scientific legitimacy.
I feel that we are in the same place today on the subject of vitamin supplementation as we were 25 to 30 years ago on exercise. It’s my opinion that we should try to prove or disprove the use of vitamin supplementation with objective research.
Recent studies, including those in the Annals of Internal Medicine article are not objective science. The reason is that in nearly all these studies researchers do not measure the blood level of vitamins to determine whether a person needs a vitamin or not. Researchers arbitrarily put study participants on a supplement and compare them to those on a placebo.
In our studies on vitamins B12, D and omega-3 (conducted over the last eight years) we have looked at blood levels and show that they vary tremendously. Some people taking no supplements have a very high level of certain vitamins and some people taking supplements have a very low blood level of vitamins. At Cooper Clinic we treat vitamins like any drug we prescribe. We measure the blood level and recommend vitamin dosages to get blood levels up to satisfactory levels. In my opinion that’s how a vitamin has to be prescribed. In addition, we are studying the long-term benefits of these vitamins in our practice of preventive medicine.
The benefits of vitamins are well documented in scientific literature. For example:
- Vitamin D supplementation reduces fractures from falls in the elderly (as shown in most studies).
- Vitamin D deficiencies can be a factor in osteopenia and osteoporosis and supplementation can be used to treat it.
- Vitamin D deficiency may be related to Multiple Sclerosis and in some clinics, high doses of vitamin D are being used to treat it.
- Vitamin B6 in some cases has been effective in treating carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Omega-3 supplementation has been approved by the FDA to lower blood triglyceride levels.
- Niacin (vitamin B3) is used to lower total cholesterol and to increase HDL (good) cholesterol.
- Folic acid deficiencies in women have been known to result in spinal bifida and neural tube defects in the newborn.
- Vitamin B12 is used as a treatment to correct pernicious anemia and is a factor in cognitive dysfunction in the elderly.
- Folic acid, B6 and B12 have been shown to lower Homocysteine levels, hopefully a beneficial effect on reducing the frequency of heart attacks and stroke.
- Niacin (vitamin B3) has been used to reduce the frequency of some cancers.
I believe that in order to practice responsible medicine we cannot make a broad based statement about vitamins. If every American ate between five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables a day we would not need additional vitamin supplementation. However, because the average American adult eats 3.1 servings of fruits and vegetables and the average teenager gets 1.6 servings, levels of vitamins in the blood can be low and supplementation becomes necessary.
While we can never replace a good diet, I continue to recommend vitamins as insurance for people who don’t follow the recommended daily serving of fruit and vegetables.
To learn more about Dr. Cooper’s work in preventive medicine as the ‘father of aerobics’, click here.