It was EXTREMELY interesting to see the bad press this week over the wasted use of multivitamins and mineral supplements. I was surprised at how this story took off and was widely covered. Very pleased to see it. I would not like to be a vitamin manufacturer’s PR person this week. A study appearing in a scientific journal included some commentary about vitamin usage.
According to a Gallup poll, Half of Americans Take Vitamins Regularly. Yet all you mostly get from vitamin supplements is fancy urine. In most cases we don’t need these supplements, we are not deficient but would be better off to improve our daily diet. A pill is a poor substitute for that.
The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on Tuesday, was accompanied by an editorial titled, “Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.” “The message is simple,” the editorial asserted. “Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided.” Vitamin sales total nearly $12 billion annually.
Why this push in supplements in the recent decades? “Blame money, politics, and a flawed genius named Linus Pauling,” says this piece:
Research about the ineffectiveness of vitamins, or worse, has been around since the 1940s, after all. “People over time and particularly people in the United States have been led to believe that vitamin and mineral supplements will make them healthier, and they’re looking for a magic pill,” Dr. Cynthia Mulrow, another of the Annals of Internal Medicine editorialists, tells Reuters.
And the “magic pill” habit may be hard to break, scathing editorial or no.
Linus Pauling advocated megadoses of Vitamin C to prevent or cure colds quicker. While the studies showed this claim wasn’t valid. LOTS of people believe this. I still hear it from people who think they are getting a cold – OD on the Vitamin C.
It’s a good gimmick – and people think there is no harm to it except spending a little more on something that seems like insurance against poor nutrition. However, affluent countries are not in short supply of nutrition, we just need to choose a varied diet.
NPR reports on three studies this week that were bad for vitamins:
The Case Against Multivitamins Grows Stronger : Shots – Health News : NPR.
Three studies published Monday add to multivitamins’ bad rap. One review found no benefit in preventing early death, heart disease or cancer. Another found that taking multivitamins did nothing to stave off cognitive decline with aging. A third found that high-dose multivitamins didn’t help people who had had one heart attack avoid another.
Here are the links to those.
- Annals of Internal Medicine | Vitamin and Mineral Supplements in the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer: An Updated Systematic Evidence Review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
- Annals of Internal Medicine | Long-Term Multivitamin Supplementation and Cognitive Function in Men: A Randomized Trial.
- Annals of Internal Medicine | Oral High-Dose Multivitamins and Minerals After Myocardial Infarction: A Randomized Trial.
Another fallacy is that if a little is good, more is better. Wrong. More can be harmful. Dr. Paul Offit writes about vitamins in his new book Do You Believe in Magic. He also wrote an editorial piece this week about this subject. He makes no bones about it.
In the editorial that accompanied these studies, the authors summarized the evidence. “Beta-carotene, Vitamin E, and possibly high doses of Vitamin A supplements are harmful,” they wrote. “Other antioxidants, folic acid, and B vitamins, and multivitamin and mineral supplements are ineffective for preventing mortality or morbidity due to major chronic diseases.” In other words, megavitamins (which contain quantities in excess of the Recommended Daily Amount, or RDA) were potentially harmful, and multivitamins (which contain at or around the RDA) were useless.
This Offit piece was excellent and revealed the tactics being used by the supplement industry. It’s kind of insideous. Supplements are NOT natural – who can eat that much vegetables or fruits in one sitting?
Although popping 1,000 milligrams of Vitamin C (present in forms as delightful as gummy bears) might seem like no big deal, you would have to eat 14 oranges or eight cantaloupes to achieve the same amount. It’s hard to eat eight cantaloupes at one time. That’s because you have to bypass your stomach’s satiety level. Maybe our stomachs are only so big for a reason. So it shouldn’t be surprising that megavitamins have consistently been shown to do harm. The lesson is clear: Don’t fool with Mother Nature.
Other dietary aids can also be harmful, as we regularly report on this site. The New York Times reported on the OxyElite recall from this story:
Christopher, a high school student from Katy, Tex., suffered severe liver damage after using a concentrated green tea extract he bought at a nutrition store as a “fat burning” supplement. The damage was so extensive that he was put on the waiting list for a liver transplant.
Dietary supplements account for nearly 20 percent of drug-related liver injuries that turn up in hospitals, up from 7 percent a decade ago, according to an analysis by a national network of liver specialists. The research included only the most severe cases of liver damage referred to a representative group of hospitals around the country, and the investigators said they were undercounting the actual number of cases.
The advocates for nutritional supplements are responding in the usual way. But this is NOT news. It’s been long known that dosing on vitamins isn’t doing you any good but they still keep pushing the worthless stuff on unsuspecting, uneducated consumers. There is no excuse not to be uneducated now. I’m very glad to see this getting press and I hope this eventually results in some regulatory changes (to the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act). Or at least it will result in greater awareness of the issue. This market is UNREGULATED and DANGEROUS in several ways.