Vitamin Therapy in the Absence of Obvious Deficiency
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Vitamins are a group of organic compounds occurring naturally in food and are necessary for good health. Lack of a vitamin may lead to a specific deficiency syndrome, which may be primary (due to inadequate diet) or secondary (due to malabsorption or to increased metabolic need), and it is rational to use high-dose vitamin supplementation in situations where these clinical conditions exist. However, pharmacological doses of vitamins are claimed to be of value in a wide variety of conditions which have no, or only a superficial, resemblance to the classic vitamin deficiency syndromes. The enormous literature on which these claims are based consists mainly of uncontrolled clinical trials or anecdotal reports. Only a few studies have made use of the techniques of randomisation and double-blinding. Evidence from such studies reveals a beneficial therapeutic effect of vitamin E in intermittent claudication and fibrocystic breast disease and of vitamin C in pressure sores, but the use of vitamin A in acne vulgaris, vitamin E in angina pectoris, hyperlipidaemia and enhancement of athletic capacity, of vitamin C in advanced cancer, and niacin in schizophrenia has been rejected. Evidence is conflicting or inconclusive as to the use of vitamin C in the common cold, asthma and enhancement of athletic capacity, of pantothenic acid in osteoarthritis, and folic acid (folacin) in neural tube defects.
Most of the vitamins have been reported to cause adverse effects when ingested in excessive doses. It is therefore worthwhile to consider the risk-benefit ratio before embarking upon the use of high-dose vitamin supplementation for disorders where proof of efficacy is lacking.
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