It was a terrible week for makers of vitamins and dietary supplements

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:

How the vitamin industrial complex swindled America – The Week.

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.

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.

How Lobbyists Will Keep You Hooked on Vitamins – The Daily Beast.

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:

Spike in Harm to Liver Is Tied to Dietary Aids – NYTimes.com.

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.

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  6 comments for “It was a terrible week for makers of vitamins and dietary supplements

  1. Anthony
    December 23, 2013 at 1:45 PM

    I take a multivitamin daily because I’m lousy at eating veggies and even fruits on a consistent basis. I also take some soluble fiber every day as well because of this. I had read a book by Jane Brody about nutrition when I was a teenager and she had recommended them for making up for a lack of veggies and fruits in the diet and pretty much nothing else. I am glad this is happening finally. Supplements need to be looked at closely. I am always amazed at the claims some of these manufacturers will make about them.

  2. Blargh
    December 23, 2013 at 5:32 PM

    There are some uses for vitamin supplements even in affluent countries. This time of year at the latitudes where I live, vitamin D supplements can be a good idea for fairly large portions of the population.

  3. MisterNeutron
    January 1, 2014 at 4:56 PM

    The truly awful idea that’s made its appearance lately are “gummy” vitamins. These are intended for adults, but can be chewed just like candy. How long will it be before some toddler gets into a bottle of these, and overdoses on vitamin A? There are very few cases reported, but the fat-soluble vitamins, like A, can indeed be toxic, especially for a child.

  4. Matt
    January 11, 2014 at 10:41 PM

    “all you mostly get from vitamin supplements is fancy urine”

    80% of the children in Boston in 1880 had rickets (from Dr. Michael Holick) which stopped when vitamin D was added to milk. Americans gained 15 IQ points (partial flynn effect?) and stopped getting goiters after 1924 when iodized salt was made mandatory (http://news.yahoo.com/new-study–iodized-salt-made-americans-smarter-140609525.html). Incidence of cavities dropped with flouride in the water supply. B vitamins are being added to (enriched) flour to replace those removed by milling – I wonder what diseases that is preventing?

    Just because you are not taking vitamin pills, does not mean you are not benefiting from taking vitamin and mineral supplements. At least your article said “mostly”.

    • January 12, 2014 at 10:07 AM

      That is different. The claim is about taking massive doses of vitamins to prevent or cure diseases or to improve some bodily function. You are talking about basic requirements of needed vitamins and minerals. Our current diet mostly provides that. There is no good reason and may be harm to overdose beyond the minimum needs for these supplements.

  5. April 28, 2014 at 5:14 PM

    I agree with Anthony in the comment section. I always take mutivitamins because Im not to good at eating my veggies. I know I should but I cant. I should take them on a consistent basis. Some of the claims manufacturers make are outrageous

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