Exciting advancements in medicine are happening and 2012 brought a host of good news in the health care. Despite some depressing government statistics and politics of modern medicine there are many positive signs out there, as more natural therapies are being recognized for their value in disease treatment and prevention. Here are just a few that I find interesting.
About one-third of Americans take a daily multivitamin in hopes of either preventing disease or improving health. We have endless data showing that a healthy diet chock full of vitamin- and mineral-containing fruits and vegetables correlates with a lower risk of diseases such as cancer or heart disease. Yet, studies of vitamin supplements are difficult, usually fraught with design errors, and produce conflicting results.However, a recent study showed vitamins prevent cancer. Compared with placebo, men taking a daily multivitamin had a statistically significant reduction in the incidence of total cancer, according to the Physicians Health Study II, a large-scale, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 14,641 male U.S. physicians initially aged 50 years or older, enrolled in a common multivitamin study that began in 1997 with treatment and follow-up through 2011.The small, but statistically significant 8% reduction in total cancer incidence was seen in men taking "Centrum Silver." This study is very interesting to me in that Centrum is far from what I consider an ideal or complete multivitamin. Nevertheless, in this study, the outcome was clearly beneficial for those taking Centrum.There are multiple complexities in designing a study to accurately determine if taking vitamin supplements is actually beneficial. Variables including the list of ingredients, specific types and amounts of various vitamins and minerals, and compliance in study participants, are just a few confounding issues to consider. As an example, in recent years some poorly designed studies have suggested that certain vitamins can actually increase the risk of cancer. A more accurate statement would be that isolating only one form of one particular vitamin and using that in a study for health prevention is myopic and short-sighted, underscoring the misunderstanding of doctors and even researchers when it comes to vitamin actions and thus vitamin research. For example, the SELECT study done in 2008 showed that men who take vitamin E have a higher rate of prostate cancer. Only one of the eight natural forms of vitamin E, alpha-tocopherol, was used in the study even though it is well known this is not natural and causes a decline in one of the other cancer-fighting forms of vitamin E called gamma-tocopherol.Further analysis of the data in this study showed that patients with the highest levels of gamma-tocopherol actually had a lower rate of prostate cancer. It is well known that alpha-tocopherol inhibits the production of free radicals, while it is the gamma-tocopherol form of vitamin E that is required to trap and neutralize free radicals.There is usually "more to the story" in the interpretation of vitamin research studies. The pharmaceutical industry and the journals they fund are biased against vitamins and it seems some studies are actually designed to fail. Most doctors have very little training in nutrition or vitamins and as such their comments may simply parrot the simplistic and hyped results of poorly designed studies.I encourage you to read deeper than the typical media headlines. We should raise the bar on the amount of information needed before starting a supplement study, and in particular, we should have a better understanding of the biology of the proposed vitamin in humans.
Our office was a study site for the National Institute of Health funded "Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy (TACT)" in which 1,708 patients with known heart disease were enrolled to receive a total of 30 intravenous chelation treatments to see if it would lower the rate of further heart attacks, strokes, clogging of previously stented coronary arteries, or hospitalization for angina.Chelation is the process of pulling heavy metals such as lead, arsenic or cadmium out from the body for excretion. It is well established that toxic accumulation of heavy metals is quite damaging to our health, especially to immune and neurologic systems. Heavy metals are linked to high blood pressure and artery damage, and chelation has been used for about 50 years to treat and prevent artery diseases such as heart disease and stroke.The results of TACT showed a significant decrease in the chelation treatment group with an 18% reduction in outcome events. Most of the benefit was seen in preventing stents from clogging up again, and diabetics in the study had the greatest benefit with a 39% reduction in outcome events.I'd like to see the same study done in patients with much earlier artery disease progression or absence of artery disease. This would make TACT more of a primary prevention study instead of secondary as it was designed. This was a huge, landmark study, and seems to have surprised the cardiology community which has remained skeptical of chelation therapy, despite broad support of alternative practitioners and over 100,000 patients receiving chelation each year.
The year 2012 showed considerable progress in areas I believe should be revolutionary in future health care options. We are learning more about the complex interactions and interdependency on the fat-soluble vitamins K, A, D and E. Genetic research continues to uncover absolutely fascinating information such as the impact of "single nucleotide polymorphisms" on risks of disease and previously unknown causes for defects in fundamental metabolic pathways.Autoimmune disease may soon be a thing of the past as we unravel how the connections between genetic predisposition, impaired gut health, and environmental toxins "allow" the immune upset that permits autoimmune disease to develop in the first place. Work with molecular genetics and the immune system may lead to huge advancements in cancer treatments based on "smart bombs" instead of the random killing effects of chemotherapy or radiation.It's also encouraging to see the growth of functional medicine, which seeks to find and correct the "root cause" of disease rather than simply chasing another symptom with another medication. The integration of natural, alternative and complementary treatments continues to grow as patients find health success outside the conventional pharmaceutical driven medical paradigm. 2013 has promise!Scott Rollins, M.D., is board certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call 970-245-6911 for appointments or more information.