A review of vitamin supplements in one of the most respected medical journals comes to devastating results about their usefulness.
“Stop Wasting Money”
Among scientific journals, The Annals of Internal Medicine is what the New York Times is for newspapers: highly respected, sometimes as dry as 3000 year old Egyptian papyrus, and robing criticism as intellectually fine as the Thesaurus can make it.
But in their latest issue they got mad – really mad – and published a commentary coming to the following conclusion:
We believe that the case is closed — supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults with (most) mineral or vitamin supplements has no clear benefit and might even be harmful. These vitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention. Enough is enough.
What could get these guys far enough to even title it “Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements”?
Multivitamins Do Nothing
Part of the answer lies in three research papers on the usefulness of multivitamin supplements published in the same issue:
- The first was a meta-analysis (a summary of other studies) that looked at the results of 27 studies involving more than 450,000 people (full article available for free). It found no reliable evidence that vitamin or mineral supplements had a positive influence on cardiovascular disease, cancer, or general mortality in healthy people who didn’t suffer from malnutrition.
- The second was a study that examined almost 6,000 doctors over the age of 65, who either used a daily multivitamin or a placebo. After twelve years of this, there was no difference in cognitive function and verbal memory between the two groups.
- The third was a study conducted at Mount Sinai that examined more than 1,700 people who had had a heart attack and took a multivitamin to prevent the next. The multivitamin did nothing.
But what made them really cry out in frustration is that this just further adds to the huge mountain of evidence showing that all those supps do nothing or even harm you.
“It’s Big Pharma!”
Reading through comments this received on various news sites, the believers in vitamin supplements unite in one assumption: this research is sponsored by big pharma, who try to torpedo natural remedies to sell us their expensive pills.
This ignorance makes me shake my head. Do those people get their vitamins and minerals for free? Don’t they realize that in 2010 and in the US alone, people spent a whopping $28 billion on them? That that is 7 billion more than Eli Lilly, one of the world’s pharmaceutical heavyweights, reported as revenue for 2009?
Spend Your Money Wiser
As far as the five doctors who wrote the Annals editorial are concerned, the only vitamin that may have some effect as supplement is vitamin D. And I agree. Studies looking at it so far had mixed results and a definite answer requires some more research.
But other than that, vitamin supplements are only useful if you have a clear deficiency and if you suspect to have one, get it tested. If you don’t have a deficiency, use the money you saved on supps to buy some good and nutritious food.
Picture courtesy of Colin Dunn.