Herbs / Vitamins / Drugs / Supplements

B Vitamins & Cardiovascular Disease — Fact From Fiction

I want to comment on the continuing barrage of “news” stories, claiming vitamins are dangerous – and may even cause cancer!! Believe me, if that were the case, I would be the first to tell you about it. It’s the reason that I don’t utilize either human growth hormone or melatonin in my practice. Both have been demonstrated to have tumorogenic activity. In a word, they cause tumors to grow. 

What you need to understand concerning the studies being reported in the media is that these are not actual experiments. They are “meta-analyses.” What does that mean? It means essentially that someone did a literature search and then did a statistical analysis. No parameters are established over the quality of the supplements used, the dosages prescribed, or the condition of the people taking the products. It is very reminiscent of the “study” that announced that vitamin C was useless in treating cancer, because the dying patients given the vitamin C only extended their lifespan a few days to weeks – they all still died. This is the caliber of the “research” that is going on, because the drug companies, who are the primary funders of such studies are desperate to regain the market they see as being lost to nutritional supplements.

I would like to highlight two studies that received a lot of press in March of this year. The reports appeared in the March 16th issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, and their conclusions were touted far and wide. B vitamins, especially B vitamins designed to lower homocysteine levels, do not help cardiovascular disease. However, one of the two studies did determine that there was a “marginally significant” decrease in stroke risk after supplementation.

The first study, called the Norwegian Vitamin (NORVIT) trial, randomly assigned almost 4,000 men and women who had already had a heart attack to receive folic acid, vitamins B6 and B12, or a placebo. There was a 27% decline in homocysteine in 3 years, but the researchers found no significant effect on whether people had another heart attack. The second study, called the Heart Outcomes Prevention Evaluation (HOPE) 2 study had similar results, but did find a slight reduction in stroke among the group taking the supplements.

The conclusion stated, however, is misleading. There was a blanket condemnation of vitamin supplementation with the statement, “B vitamins do not prevent heart disease.”

However, when you read further, there are a few problems with these findings. For one thing, these studies were not preventative. The test subjects were individuals who already had cardiovascular disease and damage to their arterial system. The study populations included individuals with medical histories that included heart attacks, heart disease, diabetes and other problems. The fact that there was a reduction in strokes suggests that the reduction in homocysteine actually did reduce inflammation and subsequent clot formation. 

And, since the individuals were already ill, the studies provide no data concerning the efficacy of B vitamins in preventing the development of heart disease in healthy individuals. The researchers were using a medical model; they were trying to treat or reverse heart disease in sick people. 

The study design was also flawed. In the NORVIT study, there were 4 groups: one received folic acid; another received vitamin B6; a third group received both; and the fourth was given placebo. Yet, in our complex metabolism, these vitamins work together to achieve a metabolic result. They are co-factors in the pathway that metabolizes homocysteine. And, in the NORVIT study, it appears that B12 was not included. Yet, it is an important co-factor in this pathway.

The other issue I have is that the dosages used were quite low, and were not adjusted f r body weight. In the HOPE study, the subjects were given 2.5 mg of folic acid, 50 mg of vitamin B6 and 1 mg of vitamin B12. There is no indication that they were given the complete B complex, as well. You cannot give isolated Bs, without creating a deficiency in other factors in the B complex. And, we already know that vitamin B1 deficiency can cause heart attacks.

In addition, these individuals were already under medical care for a variety of health conditions and were also taking pharmaceuticals for their heart condition. And, the little known fact is that many cardiovascular and diabetic medications deplete folic acid, as well as other nutrients.

When you consult unbiased sources, the results are quite different. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Center for Health Statistics reveal the following. With the advent of the refining of wheat (essentially removing ALL B vitamins from flour) in the early 1900s, deaths from heart disease began to skyrocket. The statistic went from essentially zero in 1920 to a high of 300 per 100,000 population in 1970 (the year vitamin sales in the U.S. began to take off). From 1970 through 1990 deaths from heart disease dropped in direct relationship to the increase in vitamin sales. Vitamin sales in 1970 were barely $10 million, but by 1990, they had increased exponentially to $1.5 billion. 

This sort of data makes the drug companies squirm. It suggests that there are safe, non-drug alternatives to their products. Which, of course, translates to lost profits.

Please be vigilant and skeptical of these studies. Remember, all of them are funded by chemical companies who have a large ax to grind. In chiropractic research, we have a huge problem with funding because there is no commercial interest in finding safe, non-invasive alternatives to drugs and surgery. I also believe that the American public is being conditioned to accept major restrictions on access to herbs and vitamins – a kind of behind the scenes approach to the Codex Alimentarius. Keep informed and make your voice heard to legislators who may want to limit your rights.

Does this apply to you? If so, see our information on Consultations.