By Pharmacist Ben Fuchs
Lol, despite the provocative and somewhat incendiary headlines plastered all over the media, even a cursory reading of the actual article originally published the Annals of Internal Medicine (AIM), reveals scant evidence that taking a multi-vitamin is indeed a waste of money.
Vitamins vs RX
The breathless headlines and catchy captions refer to the conclusions of an AIM editorial that was based on the result of two studies. The first one looked at 1700 North American adults aged 50 and older who had a myocardial infarction at least 6 weeks prior to the beginning of the study and who randomly received EITHER a high dose 28 component vitamin mineral formulation or a placebo. The second study was done on 6000 male physicians, aged 65 or older, who randomly received a daily multi-vitamin or a placebo. In the first study, after 4.5 years follow-up, mortality was no different between the vitamin group and the placebo group. In the second, after 6.5 years follow-up, vitamin-popping medical men showed no significant improvements in global cognition or verbal memory over their placebo taking colleagues.
No mention is made of what kind or amounts of vitamins were taken, when they were taken, what they were taken with or of what kind of health conditions or challenges participants were confronting, especially in terms of digestive health. We don’t even know if and how effectively the participants were absorbing their multi-vitamin supplements. Without answers to these kinds of questions it’s impossible to derive any meaning from this kind of research let alone conclude that regular intake of multi-vitamins is a waste of money. In fact, drawing these kind of conclusions from what are two, in essence, meaningless studies is at best ignorant and a classic example of sensationalism and yellow journalism, with no other purpose than attracting attention. At worst it’s dishonest, deceitful and misleading misdirection designed to cast aspersions on nutritional supplementation and create doubt and cynicism on the entire world of non-medical health care.
One of the most important points to consider about these periodic hit pieces that come out about multi-vitamin supplementation is the glib and very non-scientific way the word “vitamin” is used. Technically a there are only 6 vitamins specifically designated as B and C and D and E an A and K. And they are all ESSENTIAL.
The human body cannot live without them. They are as fundamental and as necessary as air and water. However many health care professionals use the term for essential, vital life-giving chemicals called vitamin as a catch-all descriptive term to designate any kind of molecular substance that is used to support the nutritional content of the diet including mineral, herbal and other non-vitamin molecules. These health care professionals, who should know better, seem to think that the word vitamin is synonymous with a little pill that you take every morning. As in, “should you take a vitamin?” Or, “don’t take vitamins it’s a waste of time.” Or, “Vitamins are waste of money.”
This way of describing supplements, making a supplemental pill synonymous with a molecule or a chemical, that is in fact to the body what oil and gasoline is to a car, trivializes the absolutely vital nature of the chemicals of life. Which is actually what the word “vitamin” really means (amines are a type of chemical structure and vita means life). When you understand that vitamins are the chemicals of life, it becomes obvious how saying things like things like: “Using vitamins is a waste of time” or asking “should I take vitamin supplements” is really silly
Maybe we need a new word for vitamin. How about “life-force-molecules”? Would anyone say: using extra “life-force-molecules” is a waste of money? Or taking extra “life-force-molecules” is a waste of time? Or “life –force-molecules“ in a pill is a waste?
“Life-force-molecules” is an apt description for these substances that are the key essential (and essentially magical) molecules that play such an important role in making sure we can move our limbs and beat our hearts and pump our lungs and detoxify our blood or clear out our bowels. These are all functions of the human body, and they are all dependent on “life-force-molecules”, on the chemistry of life, on what we call vitamins. Why would you NOT take supplemental “life-force-molecules” that are available in a capsule or drink of tablet form? How the heck can anyone think that using these things supplementally are a waste of time or a waste of money? When you understand that what we call vitamins are the molecules that channel the life force throughout our bodies, how can you not want to saturate your body, drench your tissues and cells with these elements, ideally from quality food or if they’re not available in foods in high enough quantities, (and typically they’re not) by supplementing your foods with The Beyond Tangy Tangerine, The Ultimate Daily and the Mighty 90. And can anyone, once they understand that these things are the carriers of the life force, they are the amines of life, and the chemicals of life, say that using these things is waste of time or money?
Now, as far as the specifics of these really flawed studies, here’s my thoughts:
First of all there’s the subject of adherence to the program. In the first of the two studies reported on, subjects were considered to have adhered the program if they took their multi vitamin 2/3 of the time. In other words even if they skipped 2 or 3 days a week, they still counted as vitamin taking subjects and there results still counted and contributed to conclusions. Is that hard to believe? It should be! Did anyone read about in stories on Fox and CNN and New York Times, probably not! The authors of the study actually admit as a limitation the fact that: “there was considerable non-adherence and withdrawal, thereby limiting the ability to draw conclusions…”
And it gets worse! How much actual nutrition was in these so-called high dose multi-vitamins is not mentioned in the media reports, so I did some digging. As it turns out, in the study on multi-vitamin use and heart disease, 100 i.u. of Vitamin D3 was used and tiny amount of B-vitamins (50mg of B6, 200mg of B3 and 100mg of B1). 25,000 i.e. of Vitamin A was used, but it was partially composed of non-vitamin A compound beta carotene. Do conclusions drawn from the effects of such scant doses of nutrients really invalidate the use of a daily multiple-vitamin? And the nutrient dose in the study on cognition was even worse. Participants were given the equivalent of the Centrum Silver vitamin. Authors of this second study even recognize as a limitation that “doses of vitamins may have been too low”.
In both studies, conclusions were drawn based on patient’s reports of the supplements that they took and dependent on memory and recollection. They were not based on scientific measurements but rather on questionnaires. Does anyone out there believe that questionnaires constitute the rigorous standards mandated by science and the scientific method? Again, did anyone read this in the media articles screaming that scientists have” proven” that multi-vitamins are a waste of time?
How exactly did these studies measure whether the supplements worked? What were the criteria that researchers used to assess efficacy and determine whether indeed using supplements are a waste of time? Well, in the first study, authors determined that a 25 percent reduction would be required to determine that multi-vitamins were effective. In other words if there was a 24 percent reduction is cardiovascular risk according to the researcher vitamins would be a waste of time. Now do you think that if a drug could reduce your risk of a heart attack by 24 percent that it would be considered wasteful. On the contrary it would be considered a miracle!
You want more reasons not to pay attention to these ridiculous studies and conclusions. Ok, how’s this: subjects in the multi-vitamin taking group had a higher rate of diabetes one of the greatest risk factors there is for heart disease than subjects in the placebo group. In other words, the deck was stacked towards disease in the multi vitamin group and towards health in the placebo. And this is supposed to be an objective study!
Finally how about all the other studies that have been done that show the importance and health relevance of taking even a paltry bare bone minimum multi-vitamin when it comes to health improvement?
How about the Physicians Health Study that found that a multi vitamin was associated with 12 percent reduction in overall cancer incidence after 11.2 years? The same study found a 39 percent reduction in fatal heart attack risk. How about the supplementation in Vitamins and Mineral Antioxidant study that found a 31 percent reduction in total cancer incidence in men who took a daily multi vitamin. Another study published in the Journal of American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition in Feb 1995 showed that postmenopausal women who took vitamin B6 and B2 reduced their risk of colorectal cancer.
Long story short, the bottom line folks is these things are not optional, they are the opposite of option which is what the word “essential” means. Without vitamins B and C and D and E and K, without 60 minerals and without the 2 essential fatty acids and without 10 or 11 essential amino acids, you cannot have a full long, vital, healthy, disease free life PERIOD! That is not opinion that is fact. The appearance of disease and degeneration in response to the lack of these substances (which are EASILY available through the Youngevity products, thru the Mighty 90, through what is called a multi-vitamin) is one of the great tragedies of our modern lifestyle. To have medical professionals, supposed scientists, the media and other sources we should be able to trust spew out hostility and venom and perpetuate misleading mendacious lies about the importance these things are as unconscionable, as it is unfair.
Now keep in mind here, I and no other responsible nutritionist is making a claim that a multi-vitamin is going to “cure” heart disease and make you smarter or more glib, but that doesn’t matter. Nutrients, the components of a multi-vitamin pill are a must-have; they are not optional, they are essential. What does that mean? Simply this: without the molecules that we call nutrients, the human body cannot do what it needs to do to stay alive, period. Without the essential nutrients that are found in a multi- vitamin, bodily diseases are inevitable. That means, for example, without Vitamin C blood vessels will degenerate, gums will swell and bleed and joints will become inflamed and painful. Without Vitamin B1 confusion will ensue, focusing will become difficult and hallucinations and delusions are likely. Without Vitamin B3 the digestive tract will begin to break down, painful chronic diarrhea is ultimately possible, rashes and “unexplained” dermatitis will develop. Without Vitamin D bones are likely to soften and dissolve and without Vitamin K hemorrhaging and internal bleeding are real possibilities. You want more? OK, without Vitamin B6 you can expect cardiomyopathy (heart disease) and Alzheimer’s disease and without Vitamin A depressed immunity, skin disease, defective night vision, and ultimately blindness are all likely. Still not convinced as to the vital nature of these nutritional elements? How’s this: without zinc you can count on the development of severe acne, without selenium heart muscle will degenerate and without magnesium, blood sugar defects, osteoporosis and hypertension are likely to ensue
Will taking a multiple vitamin on a daily basis guarantee that none of those unfortunate outcomes will occur? Probably not. But that’s doesn’t matter. The point is simply this: The essential vitamins and minerals that you’ll find in a multi vitamin are the basic bare bones minimum that the human body needs to do its work.
Nutrients are not drugs. Nutrients are not medicine. Their effects are gentle and sustained and unless frank all out deficiencies are present the results of supplementation are subtle. But that does not make them un-valuable and they are certainly not a waste of money. Nutrients are nourishing and they are nothing more (and nothing less) than the raw materials that your body needs to do its work.
They are the body’s equivalent of fuel for your car. To make the claim that nutrient supplements are a waste of money because compromised patients that took them didn’t get significantly healthier is like saying gasoline is a waste of money because your old junked out, beat-up 1969 Ford Pinto with no oil in its engine and no coolant in its radiator didn’t run better even though it’s tank was filled with gasoline!
Thank you Ben for yet another eye opening, intelligent study.