To Your Health/Live Longer: Supplements, How Beneficial?

To Your Health/Live Longer: Supplements, How Beneficial?

This summer, the Telluride Ski Resort and The Peaks Resort & Spa plans to host a series of week-long wellness intensives – Live Longer Retreat –  to support your (recurring) New Year’s resolution to get healthy and live longer well. The program is led by Dr. Alan Safdi, a world-renowned internist and gastroenterologist with encyclopedic knowledge of mind-body wellness and preventative medicine. Safdi also has a gift for delivering evidence-based medical findings for healthier living in easily digestible sound bytes. 

In the run-up to the retreats (and earlier lectures in March and April), Dr. Safdi plans to post regular updates on Telluride Inside… and Out based on the latest, closely vetted research in health, wellness and longevity. The first in the series, “To Your Health,” was designed to start your New Year off right and jumpstart your Live Longer Retreat session. Safdi writes here about “Food Habits for Life.” 

Safdi continues his series by answering the question: Are extra vitamin supplements always beneficial?

Read on for more – and sign up to participate in a Live Longer at or call 1-877-448-5416 for further information.

A recent study underlined the potential risks of taking excessive amounts of certain vitamins.

Many years ago, everyone thought that since carrots contain beta-carotene, we could take this Vitamin A precursor and put it in a pill to prevent lung cancer. Beta-carotene is the precursor form of Vitamin A, found in fruits and vegetables.

The research results really surprised us.

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables containing beta-carotene can help to prevent cancers, but taking high-dose supplements of that substance is linked with an increase in incidence or growth rates of lung cancer in smokers. 

New research suggests long-term, high-dose supplementation with vitamins B6 and B12 – long touted by the vitamin industry for increasing energy and improving metabolism – is associated with a two- to four-fold increased lung cancer risk in men relative to non-users.

Consistent with prior evidence of harm for other vitamin supplements on lung cancer risk in smokers, the associations doctors observed provide evidence that high-dose B6 and B12 supplements should not be taken for lung cancer prevention and, in fact, may increase risk of the disease in men, but not women, in this study.

Risk was further elevated in male smokers taking more than 20 milligrams of B6 or 55 micrograms of B12 a day for 10 years. Male smokers taking B6 at this dose were 3x more likely to develop lung cancer. Male smokers taking B12 at such doses were approximately 4x more likely to develop the disease compared to non-users.

These findings from the Vitamins and Lifestyle (VITAL) cohort study were published online on August 22 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements suggests that men age 51 years and older need B6 at a dose of 1.7 mg daily (women, 1.5 mg daily); for B12, the recommended dose for adults is 2.4 mg daily.

The analysis controlled for numerous factors, including personal smoking history, age, race, education, body size, alcohol consumption, personal history of cancer or chronic lung disease, family history of lung cancer and use of anti-inflammatory drugs.

Men and women have different susceptibility to tobacco-induced lung cancer and supplementation with high-dose vitamins B6 and B12 for longer durations may support more rapid cell growth and promote carcinogenesis in already mutated cells in smoking men.

It is necessary to point out that this was an observational study and, as such, it cannot provide proof of causation. There may be entirely different factors affecting cancer risk, which just happens to be related to supplement usage. 

High-dose vitamin supplements are equivalent to taking medications and all supplement or vitamins people regularly ingest should be discussed with their physicians.

In general, we are not smart enough to know what part of a blueberry or carrot is best to put in a pill, so stick with whole foods and take supplements only under a physician’s guidance. Fruits and veggies contain beneficial phyto-chemicals not found in vitamins.

The beta-carotene example is illustrative. The risks, benefits, alternatives and unknowns about vitamins and other supplements are not well studied. Because of this recent study and others, it becomes evident rigorous experiments need to be done to prove a causal effect on the incidence of lung cancer and other illnesses.

Too little of a lot of vitamins may be deleterious. Vitamin D is another example: too much also has been shown to have serious adverse effects.

The same can be said about minerals and electrolytes. 

We suggest taking all these agents with guidance and always ask your health care provider if anything new was recently published.


More about Dr. Alan Safdi:

Dr. Alan Safdi is a board-certified in Internal Medicine and in Gastroenterology and a Fellow of the American College of Gastroenterology. A proven leader in the healthcare arena, Safdi has been featured on the national program “Medical Crossfire” and authored or co-authored numerous medical articles and abstracts. He has been an investigator in over 581 studies and is President of both the Consultants For Clinical Research and the Ohio Gastroenterology and Liver Institute.

Dr. Safdi has been involved in grant-based and clinical research for about 35+ years and is passionate about disease prevention and wellness, not just fixing what has gone wrong. He lectures internationally on the subjects of wellness, nutrition, and gastroenterology.

More about the other lectures:

A series of lectures given by Dr. Alan Safdi and Dr. William Renner in Telluride is planned for the Spring. The talks on health, wellness, and longevity research target health care providers as well as the general public.

A new workshops targets the veterinary world with lectures and hands-on training for veterinarians in the field of endoscopic therapy in animals. Multiple stations with direct hands-on learning with in-depth lectures with regards to GI disease that can be treated or prevented with endoscopic therapy. For more information, visit the following;; and

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