Adam Conover Says Megadosing Vitamins Is Bad. Is He Right?

 

adam conover

Well well well neighbors!

Hopefully your presence here means you were able to make it through Christmas without going all Poena Cullei on the ‘rents or getting abducted by radioactive Elves.

‘Tis the season!

My holiday spirit has been buoyant…………lots of fam-fam, Bulls trouncing Thunder, shenanigans with Exploding Kittens, and a delightful lack of heart palpitations from worrying about the monies.  What can I say, I’m blessed to have an inner circle that’s delightfully low-brow.

However, my Kristmas Karma had to hit the pause button when I watched this little vignette from Adam Conover on TruTV about the dangers of high dosing vitamins:

Me and this guy can’t both be right.

So does this slick-haired Alton Brown protegé knows what he’s talking about or have I been maliciously pushing capsulized balls of cancer on you these last four years?

I mean, if he were to have the last word maybe I ought to change my profile pic from this:

profile pic

to this:

jonathan evil

Whaddya think……should I continue blogging or just close up shop before the FTC pillages my LLC and bank account while they yank my jar of fish oil pills from my cupboard en route to the slammer?

AM I A CON?!?

Megadosing Vitamins:  The Big Confusion

When I read a book or watch a movie that’s meant to persuade I like to think about what its title ought to be if it was crafted for accuracy instead of marketing zing.

The title of this clip is “The Weird Reason We Think Vitamins Are Good For Us (They’re Not)”.

Ruh-roh!

If we were good Straussians we’d infer that the  vitamins’ reputation as being essential is just carefully seeded propaganda by the FDA to keep the dollars flowing at the Walgreens checkout line.

However, if you watch the video you’ll realize the video isn’t about why vitamins are bad.  It’s about Linus Pauling and vitamin C.

So for its appropriate title I’d suggest the following edit: “Why Linus Pauling Was Wrong About Megadosing Vitamin C and Taking It In Large Doses Won’t Cure Cancer or Prolong Your Life.”  That’s the take home point from the video.

Fallacy of Composition

The fallacy of composition is a logical error people make when they assume a truth about a part of the whole must be true for the whole itself.

In this case the point being made is that because Linus Pauling was wrong about vitamin C and its ability to stop cancer all claims about high dose vitamins must be equally untrue.

That’s not the case.

Linus Pauling was a brilliant scientist but his ideas about vitamin C have been debunked for a long time.  Nobody believes them anymore except Andrew Saul.  At doses above 400 mg vitamin C does…..nothing.

To point out that Linus Pauling was wrong about this is not a rhetorical victory.  It’s pointing out the obvious.  However, in the video an assumption is made that the legend of Linus Pauling’s vitamin C fetish is the root cause of all beliefs about the benefits of high dose vitamins.

At 3:54 in the video it states:

Dr. Todd Bodd:  You’re telling me that vitamin supplements are a lie and we only believe in them because one man went crazy?

Adam Conover:  Yeah!  Pauling was the Michael Jackson of nutrition.  He totally changed the game, we had no idea how crazy he was and 40 years later we’re still humming the tunes.

The latter statement is only true if you ignore the arc of pharmaceutical development since 1970.

The reason vitamins are essential for health is because they affect the way the body operates.  If the way your body operates is compromised in some way, perhaps due to medication or a chronic illness, then in many cases a larger-than-average dose of a vitamin can have a therapeutic effect.   Disturbances in vitamin metabolism often play roles in the etiology of a disease, and in many cases they can be engineered to provide targeted health benefits for various health conditions.

For example…..

Niaspan is a drug used to treat cholesterol that’s nothing more than slow-release niacin, (a form of vitamin B3).

In Japan 45 mg of menetrenone (a form of vitamin K) is given as prescription in order to treat osteoporosis due to its ability to bind calcium in your bones.

Accutane is a prescription drug for acne with the brand names Claravis, Sotret, and Myorisan that regulates the flow of oil on your skin and helps drain the pussy fluid from treatment resistant acne.  It’s a controlled overdose of vitamin A.

Levemofolic acid is folate bound to a calcium salt.

Nascobal is a liquid version of vitamin B12 given to patients after bariatric surgery.

The drugs Cerefolin and Metanx are drugs that contain nothing more than folate, b12 and b6 in specific combinations to treat nutrient deficiency and diabetic neuropathy.

Your doctor’s allowed to prescribe any of these for the appropriate health condition.

So yes, Linus Pauling was a few birds short of the cuckoo’s nest, but the story of vitamin therapy did’t end with his mistaken beliefs.

Vitamins Affect the Onset of Disease

In some cases high dose vitamins can be used to specifically treat disease, but the more prevalent need for higher-than-average doses is to modify pseudodeficiencies caused by impaired metabolism from chronic illness.

Diabetes, obesity, dementia, pregnancy and genetic mutations can raise or impair your body’s ability to metabolize nutrients, creating an increased need to get them through supplementation or your diet.

Finding examples of this is like looking for hay in a haystack.

The need for supplementary iron and folate in pregnancy is well established.

If you’re elderly you probably convert sunlight into vitamin D half as effectively as the general population and need twice the daily amount as a result.

Obese people often have increased needs for fat soluble vitamins because their fat tissue acts as a sink for their storage and prevents them from being used in other organs.

High dose vitamin K is beneficial for people with atherosclerosis as well as osteoporosis due to its ability to bind calcium and keep it out of epithelial tissue in the arteries.

Diabetics often benefit from high dose biotin since it up-regulates genes that code for enzymes involved in carbohydrate metabolism.

Folate, B12 and pyridoxal all have important roles in cognition and mental health.

None of these insights are very new, and they all came around long after the sun set on Linus Pauling’s silly ideas about vitamin C.

Adam Conover Should Start A Blog

There are usually “smart” arguments and “dumb” arguments for unconventional methods.  Adam Conover is a TV-know-it-all-myth-buster-guy that uses 3-10 minute segments to debunk popular ideas and replace them with a more scientifically literate truth for his audience.

The problem is that TV is primarily a visual medium that’s best for communicating big ideas to people who aren’t paying very close attention.  If you’re exploring a complex topic that’s very constraining and will shoehorn you into attacking the “dumb” arguments that are easy to critique but less researched and nuanced than the “smart” arguments the best practitioners use to come to their conclusions.

If Adam Conover were really adamant about getting to the truth he’d ditch his TV show and be more like me.  I’m an internet-know-it-all-myth-buster-guy that uses long form blog posts to explore popular ideas and determine if they’re true or not.

As a medium blogging gives you much more of a canvas to explore alternative viewpoints and dig into the more subtle ideas you need to understand in order to determine if something is true or not.

Sins of Omission

There was nothing in Adam Conover’s critique of high dose vitamins that was technically untrue.  Linus Pauling really was a quack and airborne really did get sued.  The issue is the implied affiliation between a specific observation and a more general one that isn’t actually there.

If someone didn’t know any better you’d conclude that all high doses of vitamins are useless or harmful which simply isn’t the case.

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About Jonathan Bechtel

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Comments

  1. Hmm interesting. I would normally assume that mega doses of anything can be potentially harmful :P

    • Jonathan Bechtel says:

      It really depends on how your body excretes it. Fat soluble vitamins are naturally stored. Water soluble vitamins are naturally excreted. There are also important differences between taking a large dose of something once and continually taking very high doses for a long time. Absorption also effects whether or not there could be negative effects in the long run

  2. Del Toro says:

    Well Jonathan, it seems like I’ve found my soulmate. Someone else who understands the hype around vitamins and their uselessness in treating serious infection and disease. Don’t fall for the hype folks, there’s no one behind the curtain.

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