Why It Is Vital To Read And Understand Published Medical Research.
While it would be best for reports about medical research to accurately reflect the true conclusions from the research, it isn’t always the case. Therefore, a closer look at the details of a study is needed. One dramatic study report on in 2008 was funded by the National Institutes of Health and several vitamin makers. It looked at 14,461 male doctors, 50 or older, including 5% who had heart disease at the time of the study. Study subjects were given either vitamin C, vitamin E, both, or a dummy pill. After eight years the researchers determined that there were NO DIFFERENCES in the rates of heart attacks, stroke, or heart-related deaths. Furthermore, the the report also suggests that taking vitamin E may actually be potentially dangerous

Instead of merely accepting the conclusions at face value, it is prudent to take a look at the study design and the actual outcomes. The study called for an evaluation of vitamin C 500 mg and vitamin E 400 IU. The daily recommended dose of vitamin C – as established by the U.S. government sometime around World War II – is about 65mg. This tiny dose suggests the minimal amount needed each day to provide ONLY enough to sustain life. In addition, the government’s recommended daily doses were established in an era when food provided more nutrients than it does today. More nutrition in food means less neded by supplements.

In the 1960s Dr. Linus Pauling suggested 3,000mg of vitamin C daily and later increased that amount to around 18,000mg. This study under question used an amount equivalent to 3% to 18% of the dose Pauling and others have recommended for heart protection. The dose of vitamin E under the study was also much lower than suggested by modern researchers. This is akin to trying to discover the effects of alcohol on men and only administering a couple of drops of liquor.

A more reasonable study approach would be to attempt to evaluate the amounts the pioneer researchers have been recommending. It seems clear that if the researchers wanted to only demonstrate minimal effects they would select the smaller doses.

One logical reason for using 500mg doses of vitamin C, then, is a misrepresentation that suggests that vitamins C and E are inferior to drugs for preventing medical consitions. In this regard they have the full support of the FDA, the government group that claims the ONLY legal cure for any disease is a drug.

The study in question is seriously flawed in the selection of doses. A misstep like this raises serious doubt about the validity of the remainder of the study. Clearly, the study does not disprove the hypothesis that vitamn C is protective.


The report states that there was a 74% higher risk of of bleeding strokes in those participants who were taking the vitamin E. While that seems to be a distinct difference, was it intended to be dramatic merely for effect?

Digging deeper, one discovers that the groups using vitamin E recorded 39 strokes as compared to 23 in the group that was NOT taking vitamin E. That’s a difference of 16 cases. If half the men in the study received vitamin E and the other half didn’t that means that the percent difference is really 16/7,230, or 0.22%. That’s significantly different than 74%. The larger figure (74%) is arrived at by a relative method frequently use to compare parts of a study. It is common, yet confusing. In total, 62 of the participants experienced a stroke (that’s 0.4% of the population in the study). The overall incidence of stroke in white males in the United States is 0.4%. It is 0.6% for blacks, and 0.679% for American Indians. The incidence of stroke in the study participants is actually below the overall average reported for the general population. (The source of this data is The American Heart Association.)

The study participants taking vitamin E experienced 39 strokes, or 0.53% of their group. Those that did not use vitamin E experienced 23 strokes, or 0.3%. The vitamin E group experienced an actual 0.23% more strokes, which is actually 74% more than the non-vitamin E group. The measured number of strokes in this study group, however, are equal to or less than the numbers that regularly occur in the general population regardless of whether they use supplements.

In conclusion, the study failed to prove anything of significance about the effectiveness or safety of vitamin C or vitamin E. The Standard American Diet is severely depleted in nutrients. The nutrient content of today’s produce is less than they were only 40 years ago. Produce comes the United States from all over the world and it is commonly picked and shipped before it is fully ripened. This reduces that amount of available nutrients. If the vitamins and minerals people need aren’t actually in the food in adequate amounts, it is truly prudent to seek other sources – supplements.

The published report has not characterized the researrch accurately and the author has selectively used only those parts that support her contention – and, likely, the contention of Blue Cross Blue Shield, where the report is now published.

Is it still prudent to take vitamin C and vitamin E supplements? Of course. Vitamin C and vitamin E are essntial nutrients – meaning that the human body needs them but cannot produce on its own. If it sin’t available from the food supply, a person must get it from a supplement.

Studies are a part of health  – but they must be done accurately and evaluated honestly. The study underinvestigation fails both of those tests.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield website offers an article titled,”Vitamin Pills Don’t Prevent Heart Disease” (By MARILYNN MARCHIONE, AP Medical Writer)