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Are Multivitamin Supplements a Waste of Money . . . or Not?

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On December 16, 2013 the news media broke the news that three studies found that a daily multivitamin won’t help boost the average American’s health, and that the experts behind the research are urging people to abandon the use of the supplements.

To put things in perspective, in 2002 the Drs. Robert H. Fletcher and Kathleen M. Fairfield, two Harvard Medical School researchers, wrote new dietary supplement guidelines that appeared in the Journal of American Medical Association, (JAMA, June 19, 2002) recommending that all adults take a daily multivitamin. This was a reversal of the journal's long-standing position that multivitamins were unnecessary because essential nutrients could be obtained in the diet.

Fletcher and Fairfield reviewed 150 scientific studies from 1966 to early 2002 and concluded that people who take vitamins can help protect themselves from chronic diseases. JAMA published this information: inadequate levels of antioxidant vitamins A, C and E may increase heart disease and cancer risk; low levels of folic acid and vitamins B 6 and B12 are risk factors for heart disease, neural tube defects and colon and breast cancer; and that inadequate vitamin D intake contributes to osteoporosis and bone fractures.

So, whom should you believe?

Here are the reasons why you should continue taking a multivitamin despite the glaring headlines that appeared this week.

• Thanks to Mike Adams, the Health Ranger and editor of for pointing out that: these multivitamin studies are universally structured so that they are based on cheap, low-grade, synthetic vitamins and inorganic minerals. Not coincidentally, these brands of low-grade multivitamins are actually manufactured by companies owned by pharmaceutical interests. They really do have a financial incentive to make multivitamins look bad, and so their multivitamin formulations are intentionally designed to fail. The vitamin E studied in this science review, for example, was synthetic, and isolated vitamin E has a long history of being toxic for human consumption. Note carefully that these researchers never looked at full-spectrum vitamin E, including the tocopherols, nor did they bother to study a food concentrate form of vitamin E (because it would have been amazingly beneficial to heart health).

• The study did not include anything about the day-to-day food intake of the participants. In one of the studies, researchers randomly assigned 1,700 heart attack survivors enrolled in a trial of therapy known as intravenous chelation to a daily regimen of high doses of vitamins and minerals or placebo pills. Participants were asked to take six large pills a day, and researchers think many developed pill fatigue (didn’t want to take the pills). Nearly half the participants in each part of the study stopped taking their medication before the end of the study. The average time people stuck with it was about two and a half years. After an average of 55 months, there was no significant difference between the two groups in a composite measure that counted the number of deaths, second heart attacks, strokes, episodes of serious chest pain and procedures to open blocked arteries. So how could the researchers say that taking multivitamins is a waste of money if the participants didn’t even take them? And we don’t know anything about the diets of these people. They might have been living on soda, ice cream, steak and fries.

• Almost 80% of Americans do not receive the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables that would provide sufficient amounts of key vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy diet. Multivitamins help, but they can’t replace a nutritious diet filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, and good quality protein and fats.

• Supplements, can in many cases, help people for a number of reasons. Because most diets are not adequate to provide all necessary nutrients, multi-vitamins and minerals can help prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Recent nutrition surveys in the US have found large numbers of people who consume too little calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, and, possibly, copper and manganese. Weight-loss, pure vegetarian and several other diets can also place some people at risk of deficiencies that vary with the type of diet they consume.

• Certain groups of people are at especially high risk of dietary deficiencies. Studies have found that elderly people living in their own home often have dietary deficiencies of vitamins A and E, calcium, zinc, and sometimes of vitamins D, B1 and B2. Pre-menopausal women have been found often to consume low amounts of calcium, iron, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Multi-Vitamins can provide amounts of nutrients that are larger than the diet can provide

• Occasionally there are individuals whose depression, anxiety, or memory problems are caused by a deficiency in some vitamin, mineral, or trace element -- most commonly one of the B complex vitamins. Deficiencies of thiamine (vitamin B1), niacin, pyridoxine (B6), or cobalamin (B12) sometimes produce mental or emotional problems, including depression. Folic acid deficiency may cause problems with mood and mental function.

• Our soil is depleted of minerals and other nutrients, thanks to over-harvesting and the use of pesticides and insecticides. Our food is not the food our ancestors thrived on. Most people rely on fast foods, and even if you are conscious of what you eat most of us are not getting adequate nutrition.

Taking a good quality multivitamin is an insurance policy to help support overall health, mood and energy. I would never take the risk of NOT taking one.



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