For those of you who have read my previous blogs, you are familiar with my stance on vitamins, supplements, and “alternative medicine.” Though this topic is an entertaining example of human folly, taking untested supplements carries some real risks. Unlike the act of believing in Santa Claus, believing in untested substances is far from harmless. When you go down this path you are ingesting compounds that quite literally alter your body chemistry.
Speaking of Santa Claus and alternative medicine, for those of you who are new to my philosophy, I direct you to a short video in which I went toe-to-toe in a televised debate with Santa himself – none other than Dr. Andrew Weil. During that PBS debate, Santa claimed to have cured his “lifelong allergy to cats” by dropping LSD in a field full of daisies. It was a rather surreal experience, sitting in a TV studio next to that jolly old elf, with his big white beard and cherubic countenance. Weil is a mixture of fairy dust and academic patina. As for his street creds, he touts the fact that he attended Harvard Medical School in the 60s, apparently before he did a lot of experimenting with mind-altering drugs. And his experimentation shows. Such is the nature of alternative medicine, where anything goes. But I digress…back to the topic of fish oil.
I’m a big fan of eating fish. My kids complain that we “eat fish every night.” Fish is a good source of protein and healthy fats, which are essential to life on this planet. However, it turns out that when you take that fish, extract the oil, concentrate-the-snot-out-of-it and compress it into a capsule, it increases the risk of aggressive prostate cancer by 71%. Oops! How did that happen? Yep, taking fish oil increases the risk of high-grade prostate cancer by over 70%!
This new finding was published in a study that examined the value of taking fish oil, along with two other supplements – vitamin E and Selenium – in preventing prostate cancer. Like fish oil, these two supplements did not prevent prostate cancer either. It turns out that Selenium provided no benefit and Vitamin E actually increased the risk of prostate cancer. Are you beginning to see a pattern here?
Researchers from the world-renowned Fred Hutchison Cancer Center in Seattle, who conducted this study, said the following about dietary supplements: “There is really no evidence that taking dietary supplements is beneficial to health, and there is increasing evidence that taking high doses is harmful.” And the cancer experts at Hutchison are not alone. One of my patients, the former director of the Arizona Cancer Center, Dr. David Alberts takes the same position. Dr. Alberts has been involved in numerous vitamin and supplement studies at the U of A Cancer Center (which, by the way, is where Dr. Weil runs his center for alternative medicine.) Dr. Alberts has seen the same pattern of an increase in cancers with the ingestion of common over-the-counter supplements. Like me, Dr. Alberts threw away his vitamins, antioxidants, and supplements over a decade ago. He doesn’t take them and he advises patients to do the same.
WHY PEOPLE HATE THE TRUTH
I’ve been warning people of the risks of taking vitamins, supplements and alternative medicine as a public service for 15 years. In my naiveté, I thought people would appreciate my expert opinion and my honesty. I thought they would want to know the truth. But alas, the hate mail I’ve received on this subject has taught me that people are not really interested in science or data. What people want most is for you to agree with them. As a physician, I’ve had many patients come to my office and ask me my opinion on vitamins and various supplements. After I give them my opinion, they then proceed to tell me why I am wrong. I often wonder why the hell they bothered to ask me for my opinion in the first place, since there is nothing on God’s green earth that could ever change their opinion.
For the record, I’m not against fantasy. For example, I’m in favor of celebrating the real Santa Claus. I do so every year. My kids put up with eating fish in my house primarily because they believe that I am a lot of fun at Christmas time. I’m one of those guys who strings up 10,000 Christmas lights on his house every year. I’m not a religious man, but I get upset when people attack Christmas. Christmas is a time to celebrate the wonderment of childhood. I have fun pretending that we humans actually have the capacity to suppress our most base and selfish tendencies for just a couple of weeks out of the year. I love the real Santa and what he represents! It’s the fake Santas that I don’t like – the ones who make millions selling snake oil under the guise of good health.
Perhaps Oscar Wilde was correct when he said, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.” However, I apparently didn’t get that right either. I tried to make people laugh when I debated Andrew Weil. When he said that a cat climbed up on his lap after he’d dropped LSD, and for the first time in his life he had absolutely no allergic reaction, I asked him how he knew that there was a cat there in the first place. What?…I thought it was pretty funny. After all, the guy was stoned on LSD! People have had all kinds of visual hallucination on LSD. But his followers weren’t amused. They wrote me letters and said they wished I were dead. Oh well, Merry Christmas!