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Vitamins and dietary supplements may be hurting you and your skin

Vitamins help our enzymes function and reduce oxidative damage done by some metabolic processes. However, when we consume them in higher than necessary doses as dietary supplements instead of as part of our well-rounded diet, at best, they are probably ineffective and at worse, they may be toxic and cause damage to our bodies and even cause acne.


The fascination of Americans with Vitamin supplements started in 1970 with Linus Pauling’s bestselling book, How To Live Longer and Feel Better, Pauling argued that such supplementation could cure the common cold. He had started to consume 18,000 milligrams (18 grams) of the stuff per day, 50 times the recommended daily allowance starting in 1964 at the age of 65. Pauling went on to claim that Vitamin C could cure all manners of diseases from the flu to HIV. Time Magazine touted Pauling’s ideas in 1992 on their cover under the headline: “The Real Power of Vitamins”, as treatments for cardiovascular diseases, cataracts, and even cancer. The author of the article went on to proclaim, “Even more provocative are glimmerings that vitamins can stave off the normal ravages of ageing,”. The Multivitamins industry exploded as did Pauling’s fame in the popular media. However, professionally he was discredited by numerous scientists and scientific studies reporting no support for Vitamin C and many other dietary supplements. In fact, studies suggested that with every spoonful of supplement Pauling added to his orange juice, Pauling was more likely harming rather than helping his body. His ideas have not just proven to be wrong, but ultimately dangerous. Linus Pauling died of prostate cancer in 1994. Vitamin C certainly wasn’t the cure-all that he cantankerously claimed it was up until his last breath. But it may have actually contributed to a heightened risk of Pauling’s cancer.


Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated that an excess of antioxidants such as Vitamin C, E, beta-carotene and folic acid didn’t quell the ravages of ageing, nor stop the onset of disease. In fact, incidence of lung cancer increased by 16% in smokers who took beta-carotene. Another study found in postmenopausal women in the U.S who took daily folic acid (a variety of B vitamin) that after 10 years, their risk of breast cancer increased by 20% relative to those women who didn’t take the supplement. It gets worse. One study of more than 1,000 heavy smokers published in 1996 had to be terminated nearly two years early. After just four years of beta-carotene and vitamin A supplementation, there was a 28% increase in lung cancer rates and a 17% increase in those who died. Multiple studies have linked excess antioxidants to increased risk of developing cancer. A study published in 2007 from the US National Cancer Institute, for instance, found that men that took multivitamins were twice as likely to die from prostate cancer compared to those who didn’t. And in 2011, a similar study on 35,533 healthy men found that vitamin E and selenium supplementation increased prostate cancer by 17%.


We now know that free radicals are vital and often used as molecular messengers that send signals from one region of the cell to another. Without them, cells would continue to grow and divide uncontrollably. There’s a word for this: cancer. We would also be more prone to infections from outside. When under stress from an unwanted bacterium or virus, free radicals are naturally produced in higher numbers to boost our immune system by stimulating macrophages and lymphocytes to start dividing and scout out the bacterium, which they engulf and then destroy with free radicals. From start to finish, a healthy immune response depends on free radicals being there for us, within us. Reducing free radicals with antioxidants would leave the body helpless against some infections.


Food supplements pose other health risks that may be hidden. Many supplements contain ingredients that have strong biological effects which may conflict with a medicine you are taking or a medical condition you may have. Lead is one of several toxic heavy metals that plants can absorb from the environment (the soil, water or air), while growing, and which can contaminate other minerals when they are mined. Sometimes lead is introduced into supplements by its use as a colorant (e.g. lead chromate, which has been added to turmeric powder to make it more yellow) or from other ingredients added to products. supplements and foods such as whole turmeric root powder, ashwagandha root powder, Echinacea, cocoa powder, greens and "whole food" supplements, kelp, and green tea leaves all have the potential to be contaminated with lead as well as other toxic metals such as cadmium and arsenic. A recent study showed that many of the top-selling powders and drinks may contain concerning levels of heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and lead, and toxins like bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in some plastic containers and food can liners. These substances have been linked to cancer, brain damage, and reproductive issues.


When it comes to antioxidants like those found in vitamin A, C, E supplements, a study in the May 16 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found no protective benefits against risk for prostate or gastrointestinal cancers. In fact, some of these antioxidant nutrients may increase cancer risk as well as cause other toxicities. According to Consumer Reports, 6,300 people reported serious side effects associated with dietary supplements to the FDA between 2007 and April of 2012. Of those, there were 10,300 serious side effects, 2,100 hospitalizations, 1,000 serious injuries or illnesses, 900 emergency room visits and 115 deaths.

Too much vitamin A (in its retinol form) may lead to liver failure or even death, while pregnant women may risk birth defects. Overdoing vitamin D intake may lead to unhealthy weight loss, bone pain, vomiting, diarrhea and muscle problems. A vitamin E overdose may increase a person's risk of bleeding, especially for those taking blood-thinning medication, according to Consumer Reports. Too much vitamin K may harm people with kidney or liver disease. An iron overdose from supplements could damage organ function, leading to death if untreated. Vitamin C is not proven to prevent colds and too much of it could be dangerous for people who have hemochromatosis, a condition in which the body absorbs and stores too much iron. If you get some midday sun during the warmer months and eat vitamin D-rich foods, such as fatty fish, eggs and dairy products fortified with the vitamin, you probably don't need to take a supplement, according to Consumer Reports. Omega-3 pills and antioxidants may not cut heart disease or cancer risk respectively, despite the common perceptions. Recent studies not only cast doubt on the protection supplements may provide against these leading causes of death, but some suggest they may even raise risk.


Dietary supplements have also been linked to acne, including those containing vitamins B6/B12, iodine, and whey, as well as "muscle building supplements" that may be contaminated with anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS). Lesions associated with high-dose vitamin B6 and B12 supplements have been described as monomorphic and although pathogenesis is unknown, a number of hypotheses have been proposed. Iodine-related acne may be related to the use of kelp supplements and has been reported as monomorphic, inflammatory pustules on the face and upper trunk. Whey protein supplements, derived from milk and used for bodybuilding, contains several acne-related growth hormones associated with papulonodular acne involving the trunk and sometimes the face. Finally, AAS-induced acne has been described as acne fulminans, acne conglobata, and acne papulopustulosa. Although collagen supplements have been touted as a must-have for glowing skin, it's important to know that some contain sulfites and cause the skin to be congested and cause acneic eruptions. Vitamins B6 and B12, in high doses, are known to trigger Rosacea fulminans. Regular consumption of multivitamins can lead to ingestion of too much iodine, a common ingredient in multivitamins, causing an influx of whiteheads and inflammatory acne on the face, as well as on the chest and back due to inflammation of the oil glands and a change in the chemistry of the oil caused by iodine. Over consumption of biotin can affect your body's absorption of B5, and since B5 helps to regulate your skin barrier and decreases oil production, less B5 can lead to acne flares.


Vitamins are in fact critical to our optimal and efficient metabolic function; however, administration of supplemental vitamins is justified only when it is evident that there is a specific deficiency causing a malfunction or a disease process. Dr Edwin Ishoo, at Boston Acne Specialists, removes patients from all dietary supplements not medically necessary and medically prescribed before initiating any intensive acne treatment series in order to allow the body and the skin to clear all potential toxins and metabolic stressors which contribute to the acneic eruptions. Dr Ishoo counsels his patients that the best option is to get vitamins and other antioxidants from food because it contains a mixture of antioxidants that naturally work together and only that which the body needs will be absorbed. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables have been shown generally to be best source of a healthy balance of antioxidants and pro-oxidants to best support our immune response to pathogens.


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