Did you see any of the news headlines a few weeks ago like “Multivitamins a waste of money” or “Vitamin, mineral supplements offer no benefits”? These were newspaper reports of an editorial in the December 17 Annals of Internal Medicine which was commenting on three studies published in the same issue. The first was a review of 27 trials of single or paired vitamins which found no clear evidence of benefits on all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease or cancer. The second was a large 12 year controlled study of elderly physicians which found no difference in cognitive decline between multivitamins and placebo. The third found no significant difference in recurring cardiovascular events (heart attack) with the use of a “high dose 28-component multivitamin”.
Based on these three studies, with vague reference to previous research with similar results, the editors concluded that effects – either beneficial or harmful – of multivitamins are too small to be detected with such small trials and, while conceding that there may be small benefits or harms in a small subgroup of the population, conclude that the “case is closed” and “…vitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention.” The editors go beyond that, warning about certain harmful vitamins and even describing vitamin D studies (which have shown clear strong benefits in many different health areas) as equivocal and contradictory. What surprised me most though was their call to halt research: “…large prevention trials are no longer justified…” which scientists almost never do. Journalists (and their editors) with little science and no nutritional expertise then take these opinions (which is what an editorial really is) and run with them, concocting the misleading headlines, with accompanying articles, mentioned above.
This editorial raises so many important issues that it will require several columns for an adequate response. Next week I will discuss the nutrient paradox – how it can be that nutrients, by definition essential for life, frequently show little benefit in supplement studies. In later columns we’ll examine the three above-mentioned studies in more detail. Stay tuned! By the way I am still taking my vitamins.
For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.