- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 12, 2005

These days, seniors have enough to worry about without sensationalist media scares. Health-care costs are rising, Social Security is on shaky ground, and now — if you believe the media — vitamin supplements will kill you.

According to a recent Johns Hopkins University report on vitamin supplements (trumpeted gleefully in the press) people who routinely take high doses of vitamin E supplements may risk increased mortality. The media swallowed this report hook, line and sinker and took it a step further, suggesting America’s seniors should change their daily health-care routines (no matter how successful they have been in the past).

The national press embraced this “research” and reported the study’s findings without sufficient context or explanation because such a story produces fear, and fear produces ratings. Welcome to “news” in the 21st century.

While media reports have offered an ominous condemnation of vitamin E, the truth is much less severe.

In fact, the bulk of scientific data suggests vitamin E supplements can be beneficial — particularly to conditions which primarily affect older people like heart disease, Alzheimer’s and macular degeneration.

The Johns Hopkins report repackaged data from 19 previous studies. However, it failed to note the individual conclusions of these studies did not suggest a relationship between vitamin E and increased mortality. Eighteen of the 19 clinical trials cited in the research found no statistically significant increase in mortality associated with vitamin E supplements.

The researchers’ definition of “high dosage” raises another point of contention. The study’s classification of high dosage was nearly 600 mg lower than safety levels identified by respected advisory bodies such as the Institute of Medicine.

Frankly, the report’s omissions and inconsistencies seem contrived and the resulting media coverage unnecessarily alarmist. This lack of due diligence and sensationalism could have an unfortunate and reverberating effect on American seniors — one of our most sensitive populations.

Most seniors take a plethora of pills and supplements every day to ensure optimal health and help ward off diseases of age. The regular diets of most seniors do not provide the Recommended Daily Allowance of 15 mg of vitamin E; foods boasting E include wheat germ oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, kiwi, raw mango and dry roasted hazelnuts, to name a few.

Unfounded warnings such as the recent Johns Hopkins report cause these people to question their routines and deprive them of important ways to combat diseases and the effects of aging.

A wealth of scientific evidence suggests the antioxidant effects of vitamin E can help combat the onset of Alzheimer’s and reduce the risk of heart disease. For example, a National Institute of Aging study found regular vitamin E and C doses reduced mortality from heart disease by 53 percent and reduced overall morality by 42 percent.

These studies and statistics were not included in any coverage of with the Johns Hopkins report, depriving people of a balanced and accurate account of vitamin supplements.

America’s seniors should not allow sensationalism and inaccurate reporting to undermine their health-care routines. Vitamin supplements have been a safe and important addition to senior health care for years and offer clear and consistent, if not spectacular, advantages.

With all the hubbub surrounding FDA oversights, drug recalls and potential dangers, the media are quick to jump on such stories, and the public is quick to listen. The fact remains supplemental vitamin E can be beneficial to a wide range of people, including seniors.

There truly is no news about vitamin supplements that should concern America’s seniors, other than news reports often to provide insufficient information for an informed, independent decision. Knowledge is power, and we must make certain all applicable information is available and assessed before making declarations that could affect the health care of millions.

It is unfortunate seniors must wade through inaccurate reports and media coverage to determine the best health regimen, but Americans must not allow sensationalism to erode their confidence in their physician’s recommendations or treatment routines that have worked for years.

James L. Martin is president of the 60 Plus Association, a conservative senior citizens’ advocacy organization.

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