A recent editorial that appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine entitled, “Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements,” grabbed a lot of media headlines and left many people wondering if they should toss out their vitamin supplements.
Unfortunately, this editorial was misleading; and the conclusions of the studies were misreported not only by the editorial, but also by the various media sources that covered the story.
These studies failed to consider several important and relevant factors, and so we shouldn’t be so quick to get rid of the multivitamins that can play a very important role in supporting good health.
What is important to look at here are the facts presented in the three studies which were the basis for this editorial.
The three studies looked at the effects of multivitamins on preventing both heart attacks and cancer, and improving cognitive function in men older than 65. Here is a synopsis of the actual findings of these studies:
- The study by Fortmann, et al., was a meta-analysis or review of clinical studies that looked at the benefits and harms of vitamins and minerals in nutrient-sufficient adults for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Worth noting is that two of the studies included in this review actually found a reduced risk of cancer in men, and the authors acknowledge limitations that their analysis only included primary prevention studies in adults without known nutritional deficiencies and that the studies were conducted in older individuals.
- The second study by Lamas, et al., looked at 1,700 people who previously had heart attacks. Almost half of the participants stopped taking the multi-vitamin during the study making the findings very difficult to interpret. Even with a high drop-out rate, those participants who continued taking multi-vitamins had a trend of reduced heart attacks.
- The third study by Grodstein, et al., involved 5947 male doctors over the age of 65 and found no difference in mean cognitive change over time between the multivitamin and placebo groups. The authors of this study actually state limitations: the doses of vitamins may be too low or the population too well nourished to benefit from a multivitamin. After all, this group included male doctors, a traditionally affluent group at very low risk of inadequate nutritional intake).
It is important to note that these studies did not evaluate the benefits of multivitamins for women and men who are younger, vitamins for vegetarian women and men, people with nutritional deficiencies or poor dietary intake, or those with health conditions that can compromise nutrient status such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, colitis, or other chronic diseases. They also did not take into consideration lifestyle factors that can affect nutrient levels such as stress, exercise or consumption of fast/processed food or use of prescription drugs that can deplete nutrients in the body such as oral contraceptives, diuretics, statins or blood pressure medications.
The reality is that many Canadians suffer from nutritional deficiencies due to inadequate or inappropriate intake from food. According to a recent report by Health Canada, many adults have inadequate intakes of magnesium, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D.
Multivitamins and other supplements are not intended to replace the need for a proper diet. Rather they can complement the diet, help prevent nutrient deficiencies and play a role in optimizing good health for women and men, and preventing disease.
A multivitamin should be considered as the foundation of your supplement regimen. It can help to fill in gaps from your diet and compensate for the many factors that deplete nutrients in our bodies.