What You Need to Know About the Recent Reports on Multivitamins
I’m sure you’ve seen the headlines proclaiming things like “Case Closed: Multivitamins Should Not Be Used” and “Vitamin pills are a waste of money, offer no health benefits and could be harmful.”
Since yesterday, when an editorial titled, “Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements” appeared one of the most widely read U.S. medical journals, the Annals of Internal Medicine, the media has been abuzz with the “news” that experts have decided once and for all that multivitamins are simply worthless — and possibly even harmful. Not coincidentally, this journal is heavily funded by the pharmaceutical industry, which views nutritional supplements as competition for their drugs. (If you visit the publication page for the study, the first thing you’ll see is a pop-up ad for the pharmaceutical drug, Xarelto,)
The authors of the editorial cited two recent studies — the first showed that multivitamins don’t prevent heart disease, and the second showed that multivitamins don’t prevent cognitive decline in men.
First off, let me point out how ridiculous it is to interpret study results this way. It would be no different than taking the results of a study that showed eating carrots doesn’t prevent heart disease — and using this as a basis for telling people to stop eating carrots, despite other research that has shown eating carrots can support healthy vision and immune health.
A Dangerous Double Standard
The fact is, if pharmaceuticals were scrutinized in the same manner as supplements, they would prove to be incredibly risky and ineffective. But the pro-pharma drug approval system in this country doesn’t actually require new medications to be definitively proven safe and effective before they’re allowed on the market and hawked to consumers with multi-billion dollar ad campaigns.
By some estimates, at least 120,000 Americans die each year as a result of correctly taking an FDA-approved drug that has been correctly prescribed by a physician. To put this in context, this is roughly three times the number of people who die in car accidents each year.
By comparison, just how many deaths are caused each year by nutritional supplements? According to an annual report based on statistics from the U.S. National Poison Data System and published in the Journal of Clinical Toxicology, a total of 4 deaths were attributed to vitamin, mineral, amino acid or herbal supplement use in the U.S. in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available. (You can download any Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers from 1983-2011 free of charge here.)
What Multivitamins Really Do
As most people who take supplements understand, if you’re looking for certain protective or therapeutic benefits, you really need to take specific nutrients at specific, often rather high doses. For example, if your goal is to ward off cognitive decline, the research shows that you should take things like high-dose vitamin B12, DHA, CoQ10 and vitamin E. A multivitamin isn’t designed to provide this type of targeted support.
So why take a multivitamin? Most people I talk to say that they take a multivitamin as extra protection against nutritional deficiencies and environmental toxins — for immunity, energy and overall wellness. They take them to feel better and improve their quality of life — not to prevent major chronic diseases.
“Despite sobering evidence of no benefit or possible harm, use of multivitamin supplements increased among U.S. adults,” the editorial’s authors write, up from 30 to 39 percent between 1988 and 2006.
Could it be that more and more people are taking multivitamins because they have experienced tangible benefits as a result — and have decided to think for themselves, rather than allowing themselves to be brainwashed by the mainstream media?
Here’s what Dr. Cara Welch, the Natural Products Association’s President of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs, had to say about the editorial:
“The authors of this editorial base their argument against vitamins and minerals on the premise that most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death. But the authors’ hypothesis is flawed in that multivitamins are not intended to cure chronic disease or prevent death solely on their own. They are designed to address nutrient deficiencies, and to aid in the general health and well-being of consumers. Multivitamins are not meant to serve as the answer to all of life’s ailments; they are, however, an important piece of the puzzle in leading a healthy lifestyle.”
Why You Need a Multivitamin — Even If You Eat a Healthy Diet
The fact is, it’s next to impossible to get optimal levels of the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants you need from food alone these days — even if you eat a “healthy” diet. Soil depletion, genetic modification and hybridization, long shipping and storage times — not to mention all of the preservatives and other additives found in packaged foods — have all conspired to make our food considerably lower in nutrients than it was even a generation ago.
And there’s no shortage of research showing that multivitamins can have positive effects on health. For example, one study showed that taking a multivitamin could extend your lifespan by nearly 10 years. Other studies have shown that multivitamins improve immune function, protect bone health and provide powerful broad-spectrum protection against the free radical damage that drives the aging process.
It’s important to keep in mind that the quality, purity and potency of the multivitamins on the market varies wildly. I don’t know what kind of multivitamins the researchers used in the studies cited in the editorial, but I would wager that they weren’t top of the line formulas.
This is one of the reasons I got into the supplements business. I wanted to be absolutely sure that the nutrients I’m taking — and recommending to my friends, family members and customers — are truly safe and effective and free of any potential contaminants. You can read more about my thoughts on multivitamins here.
I’m sure this won’t be the last we hear about multivitamins from the media. There are always going to be some studies that show one thing and some that show something completely different. That’s why we need to think for ourselves and really look at the whole picture, taking into account all of the research — and who’s behind it — as well as our own experiences.
I’d love to hear what you think about these studies. Please post your comments below.
Joshua Corn - Editor-in-Chief
Josh is a health freedom advocate and veteran of the natural health industry. He has been actively involved in the natural health movement for over 15 years, and has been dedicated to the promotion of health, vitality, longevity and natural living throughout his career. Josh has successfully overcome several personal health challenges through natural means, and believes that sharing information can empower people to take control of their health so they can solve their own problems and live life to its fullest potential. Josh is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Live in the Now. Additionally he serves as CEO of Stop Aging Now, a company that has been formulating premium dietary supplements since 1995. Josh is currently working on his first book about natural health, and is gearing up to launch the Live in the Now radio show. In addition to his work in the natural health field, Josh is an avid outdoorsman, animal lover and enjoys “living in the now” with his wife and two sons.
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Article updated on: December 18th, 2013