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Stop wasting money on multivitamins? The real story here


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Do multivitamins really cause harm and do no good? That's what the headlines this week say. What's the truth here?

By now you’ve heard that multivitamins are a waste of money and could cause harm to your health. This may be a shock to those retail outlets with “Vitamin” in their names. And doesn’t the very definition of vitamin break down to mean “vita” for vital or necessary for life and “amine” as a chemical amine? As in, substances that are essential for the body to function and which cannot be synthesized in the body so must come from the diet.

I’m here to tell you that the case is closed. So take a deep breath, continue to eat well, exercise moderately, and keep taking  - and proudly making and selling - your multivitamins. They do no harm. They are of benefit.

The controversy in question was an editorial published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which was based on the publication in the same issue of three research papers about multivitamins. The editorial was titled, “Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Your Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.”

Let’s be clear here, because the devil is in the details. The first study cited concluded multivitamins had no effect on preventing death, cardiovascular disease or cancer. It was a review of 27 studies, but only 3 were on multivitamins; the rest were on singular nutrients.

So much for a “systematic evidence review.” And, of those three studies reviewed on actual multivitamins – get this, oh cynical reader – two of them were on a total of 27,658 subjects that found a lower cancer incidence in men taking a multivitamin for more than 10 years. A study that included women showed no difference.

Wait – what? Multivitamin consumption by men prevents cancer? Where was THAT in the headlines?

In the second paper cited, researchers gave vitamins to people who already suffered one heart attack to see if the vitamins would prevent a second.

(Remember, supplements cannot, by law, claim to “treat, cure or prevent” disease or else the FDA declares them a drug – and that’s a subject for another day, but for a stellar declaration of independence from heavy-handed regulations and a call to action for the industry, check out this story that appeared in the November issue of Functional Ingredients magazine.)

Anyway, this whole study was bunk right off the bat because the “nonadherence rate” was more than 50 percent, meaning more than half the study group did not even take their vitamins. The authors themselves said any “interpretation is very difficult.”

Discuss this Blog Entry 8

on Dec 18, 2013

Great analysis and explanation!

on May 27, 2016


on Dec 19, 2013

Thanks for helping us delve deeper.

on Dec 19, 2013

I agree that there should be a list of the studies that have been done proving the efficacy of supplements and health. There's good research that goes back decades, as well as consistent and ongoing clinical results. I have been surprised at the absence of these studies in responses given by industry leaders. There are good studies, such as those below, that are answer enough to the cherry-picked data from meta-analysis methods that these bad studies are based on.

Beneficial effect on energy with multivitamin over placebo in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study -
This study utilized the Gold Standard double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel groups trial of once-daily multivitamin administration.

Dietary Supplements Increase Cell Function -

Safety Of Daily Multivitamin Reaffirmed –
Multivitamin-multimineral treatment has no effect on mortality risk.

Twenty-one Percent Reduction In Hospital Stays and Costs -

Vitamin Intervention Could Save A Million Lives Annually -

Consumers Very Confident In Supplements -

on Dec 25, 2013

At are a number of good studies listed on the benefits of various supplements. The article also sheds light on many of the misleading anti-supplement accusations and "scientific studies."

on Dec 20, 2013

Thanks for those important tidbits from the nutrition science library, Dr. McCombs! I'll be sure to reference them in follow-up stories.

on Dec 23, 2013
on Dec 29, 2013

I wonder if Forbes magazine applies this stellar level of research to its financial articles. Clearly, you can mesmerize the Forbes editorial staff with a shiny object. Is it laziness or bias? Either way, it's misleading.

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