Well, that isn’t actual fact. That’s merely the opinion of an editorial panel of medical doctors from John Hopkins, the University of Warick, and the American College of Physicians. You know, those medical doctors that receive little to no classwork on nutrition or dietary supplements.
Despite this, they titled their editorial that was published in the journal the Annals of Internal Medicine, “Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.” And that title pretty much sums up their short-sighted view on supplements.
Some supplement proponents would point out, in conspiracy-theorist fashion, that the medical establishment and Big Pharma, which pays off medical doctors to push their pills, does not want disease prevention. After all, Big Pharma makes money on treating diseases not preventing diseases. But whether you feel that this ulterior motive drove these doctors to make such strong statements despite little facts to back it up with, or that they are just misinformed and strongly biased, the real truth is that they are well off the mark here.
First, let’s look at the three studies that they are basing their strong claims on. Yes, they are claiming that vitamin and mineral supplements are a waste based off of just three studies published in one issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, while completely ignoring the multitude of studies done over several decades that show clear health benefits of these supplements.
The first study was a sub-study of the Physicians Health Study II. This was an analysis of almost 6,000 male physicians aged 65 years old or older that found that there was no difference in cognitive function between the group of physicians receiving a multivitamin and the group receiving a placebo. What is most interesting about this sub-study of the Physicians Health Study II is that the authors concluded that the low-dose vitamin supplements that were given may have not provided a high enough dose to provide benefits. Yet the biased doctors who scripted the editorial ignored that possibility and used it to promote their propaganda. Also interesting about the Physicians Health study is the fact that one sub-study, published in a 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, concluded that the subjects receiving the multivitamins had a reduced risk of cancer. Yet the MDs didn’t bother to mention that in their editorial, either.
The second study looked at the potential benefit of a high-dose multivitamin in patients who suffered a myocardial infarction (heart attack). They reported that after almost five years of supplementing, the multivitamin offered no reduced risk of the patients suffering further cardiovascular events compared to the placebo. As beneficial as supplements can be, for the most part, a multivitamin is likely not going to help much prevent a person who has already suffered a heart attack from suffering future heart issues. The damage has been done. So this study is a poor one for the editorial panel to hang their hat on to claim that vitamin and mineral supplements offer zero benefit.
The third study was an update to the previously published U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendation on the efficacy of vitamin supplements for primary prevention in community-dwelling adults with no nutritional deficiencies.
In the editorial, the panel of MDs claimed that there is evidence showing that beta-carotene and vitamin E supplements increase mortality. Yet, the USPSTF report did not identify any safety concerns for vitamins. In fact, it actually states, “The USPSTF found adequate evidence that supplementation with vitamin E has little or no significant harm.” And the concerns about beta-carotene are isolated to smokers only. So the editorial panel went quite out of their way to bend the real science in their favor to invent safety concerns over specific vitamins.
Another thing that the editorial panel forgot to mention while they were penning a one-sided case against vitamin and mineral supplements was the dozens of studies suggesting benefits of supplementing with them. The real truth is that studies concluding that vitamin and mineral supplements are beneficial far outnumber those claiming that they are not. In fact, numerous studies show that they reduce the risk of certain diseases and death.
A study published in the June 2012 issue of the European Journal of Nutrition. German researchers reported that in about 24,000 people those taking vitamin/mineral supplements at the start of the study had a 42% reduced risk in all-cause mortality over the 11 years of the study and a 48% reduced risk in cancer-related death.
Another 2012 study published in the Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology suggested that supplementing with a multivitamin could reduce the risk of colon cancer. A 2010 study from Harvard reported that supplementing with multivitamins, especially those including vitamins A, C, and E reduced the risk of colon cancer. Another 2010 study, from the Karolinska Institute, reported that women using multivitamins had a 30% reduced risk of a heart attack. A 2009 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggested that multivitamin use of over 10 years reduced the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 16%, while vitamin E supplementation specifically can reduce the risk by almost 30%.
Another 2009 study, from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, reported that women taking a multivitamin supplement have a younger biological age based on telomere length as compared to those not supplementing. And a 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that taking selenium along with a multivitamin reduced the risk of prostate cancer by 40%. One 2003 study by the Lewin Group reported that the use of a daily multivitamin by older adults could save the U.S. government more than $1.6 billion in Medicare over the five-year period from 2004 to 2008. Another 2003 study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that in 130 adults, those taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement for one year had significantly less infection, such as respiratory and urinary tract infections, influenza and gastrointestinal infections, and a lower rate of illness-related absenteeism than those receiving a placebo.
I also find it interesting that the panel of MDs focused on that one sub-study from the Physicians Health Study II that showed no difference in cognitive function between a low-dose multivitamin and a placebo. Yet there are multiple studies published showing a clear benefit in cognitive function with multivitamin supplementation. One 2012 study from Australia analyzed the data from 10 studies on cognitive function and multivitamin use in over 3000 subjects. They reported that multivitamin use was associated with better memory in females.
Another 2012 study published in Psychopharmacology reported that elderly women with cognitive decline given a multivitamin/mineral complex for four months had significant improvements in memory as compared to those getting a placebo. And a 2010 study from UK researchers found that young to middle-aged women taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement for nine weeks performed significantly better on cognitive tasks than those taking a placebo. This boost in brain power is not reserved just for women. A 2011 study from Australian researchers reported that eight weeks of supplementation with a multivitamin in men increased alertness and feelings of general day-to-day well being.
A 2010 UK study revealed that men taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement for about five weeks performed better on cognitive tasks, were less mentally tired and reported improved vigor as compared to those getting a placebo. These mental benefits have even been recorded in children. UK researchers reported in a 2008 issue of the British Journal of Nutrition that children aged 8-14 taking a multivitamin supplement for 12 weeks demonstrated better attention and cognitive function.
A 2015 review conducted by Frost & Sullivan and commissioned by the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) Foundation concluded that supplement use can add up to billions of dollars in savings on health-care costs by reducing hospital visits and the use of other medical services. The survey looked at several different supplements and conditions including omega-3 fats, B vitamins, plant sterols, and psyllium dietary fiber for heart health, lutein and zeaxanthin for eye health, chromium picolinate for heart disease induced by diabetes and calcium, as well as vitamin D for bone health. They not only included positive studies on these supplements, but also negative and null studies to create a real state of the evidence review, unlike the panel of doctors that wrote the editorial.
At any rate, the review reported positive results. Supplementing with calcium and vitamin D could save over $1.5 billion a year on osteoporosis costs alone. Some supplements were concluded to save up to $3.3 billion per year, such as plant sterols for services related to heart health.
When you consider that the Frost & Sullivan review concluded that supplements could save us billions of dollars in health-care costs, the editorial penned by the panel of MDs starts to make more sense. Maybe the conspiracy theorists are right and Big Pharma is scared to lose billions of dollars in revenue if more people took their health seriously and started exercising, eating better and using proper supplements. You really have to wonder about MDs who adamantly state that vitamin and mineral supplements are useless and dangerous, yet likely have no issue pushing drugs on their patients at the first sign of any health issue.
What I find most disturbing about this editorial is the fact that as physicians, the panel of MDs has the responsibility to influence patients to take the best path for their health. And yet they are abusing their power to misinform the public in an effort to sell them on their lopsided negative view of supplements. Yet these same MDs would likely tell a patient who has high blood pressure to take a prescription drug versus trying to reduce their blood pressure through proper diet, exercise and yes, supplementation. But then most MDs aren’t actually qualified to provide cogent exercise, diet or supplement advice.
Jim’s Take-Home Point
So take the views of this panel of MDs with a grain of salt. And don’t even get me started on the MDs who believe that every individual should drastically reduce their salt intake! But seriously, take your own health in your hands and do what you know is best for your body. You already do that with proper exercise and nutrition. And since you exercise you are likely low in numerous vitamins and minerals, as research shows. These include in particular, the B vitamins, vitamin C, chromium, selenium, zinc, magnesium and copper. This is due to a variety of factors, such as loss of the minerals in sweat and urine, as well as their increased use for energy production during the workout as well as recovery and protein synthesis following training.
Look for a multivitamin/mineral supplement like Vita JYM that provides you at least 100% of the DV (daily value) for most of the vitamins and minerals, including: vitamin A (should be mainly from beta-carotene), vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamins B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6, B12, biotin, folate, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, and selenium, and take it with breakfast. The less calcium and zinc in your multivitamin the better. Calcium can interfere with the absorption of zinc, iron and manganese. Because of this, I recommend taking 500-600 mg of calcium along with at least 2,000 IU of vitamin D3, which can further enhance its uptake and use. Zinc can inhibit copper uptake. Your best bet is to take zinc and magnesium before bed, preferably as ZMA.
Guallar, E., et al. Enough is enough: stop wasting money on vitamin and mineral supplements. Annals of Internal Medicine 159 (12):850-851, 2013.
Grodstein, F., et al. Long-Term multivitamin supplementation and cognitive function in men: A randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine 159 (12):806-814, 2013.
Lamas, G. A., et al. Oral high-dose multivitamins and minerals after myocardial infarction: A randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine 159 (12):797-805, 2013.
Fortmann, S. P., et al. Vitamin and mineral supplements in the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer: An updated systematic evidence review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Annals of Internal Medicine 159 (12):824-834, 2013.
Li, K., et al. Vitamin/mineral supplementation and cancer, cardiovascular, and all-cause mortality in a German prospective cohort (EPIC-Heidelberg). Eur J Nutr. 2012 Jun;51(4):407-13.
Arul, A. B., et al. Multivitamin and mineral supplementation in 1,2-dimethylhydrazine induced experimental colon carcinogenesis and evaluation of free radical status, antioxidant potential, and incidence of ACF. Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology 90(1):45-54, 2012.
Park, Y. et al. Intakes of vitamins A, C, and E and use of multiple vitamin supplements and risk of colon cancer: a pooled analysis of prospective cohort studies. Cancer Causes Control. 2010 Nov;21(11):1745-57.
Rautiainen, S., et al. Multivitamin use and the risk of myocardial infarction: a population-based cohort of Swedish women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2010.
Pocobelli, G., et al. Use of supplements of multivitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin E in relation to mortality. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2009.
Xu, C., et al. Multivitamin use and telomere length in women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 89(6):1857-1863, 2009.
Peters, U., et al. Serum selenium and risk of prostate cancer-anested case-control study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 85(1):209-217, 2007.
Dobson, A. et al. A study of the cost effects of daily multivitamin for older adults. The Lewin Group, 2003.
Barringer, T. A., et al. Effect of a Multivitamin and Mineral Supplement on Infection and Quality of Life: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Annals of Internal Medicine 138(5):365–371, 2003.
Macpherson, H. et al. Memory improvements in elderly women following 16 weeks treatment with a combined multivitamin, mineral and herbal supplement – A randomized controlled trial. Psychopharmacology 220(2): 351-365, 2012.
Haskell, C. F., et al. Effects of a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement on cognitive function and fatigue during extended multi-tasking. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2010 Aug;25(6):448-61.
Harris, E., et al. The effect of multivitamin supplementation on mood and stress in healthy older men. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental 26(8): 560-567, 2011.
Kennedy, D. O., et al. Effects of high-dose B vitamin complex with vitamin C and minerals on subjective mood and performance in healthy males. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2010 Jul;211(1):55-68.
Haskell, C. F., et al. Cognitive and mood effects in healthy children during 12 weeks supplementation with multi-vitamin/minerals. Br J Nutr. 2008 Nov;100(5):1086-96.
Gibson, J. C., et al. Nutrition status of junior elite Canadian female soccer athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2011 Dec;21(6):507-14.
Czaja, J., et al. Evaluation for magnesium and vitamin B6 supplementation among Polish elite athletes. Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig. 2011;62(4):413-8.
MartinoviÄ‡, J., et al. Oxidative stress biomarker monitoring in elite women volleyball athletes during a 6-week training period. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 May;25(5):1360-7.
ZaÄtseva IP. Efficiency of using vitamin-mineral complexes in the prevention of iron-deficiency states in athletes. Gig Sanit. 2010 Jul-Aug;(4):66-9.
Louis, J, et al. Vitamin and mineral supplementation effect on muscular activity and cycling efficiency in master athletes. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2010 Jun;35(3):251-60.
Clarkson, P. M. Effects of exercise on chromium levels. Is supplementation required? Sports Med. 1997 Jun;23(6):341-9.
Clarkson P. M. and Haymes E. M. Trace mineral requirements for athletes. Int J Sport Nutr. 1994 Jun;4(2):104-19.
Telford, R. D., et al. The effect of 7 to 8 months of vitamin/mineral supplementation on the vitamin and mineral status of athletes. Int J Sport Nutr. 1992 Jun;2(2):123-34.
Dam, B. V. Vitamins and sport. Br J Sports Med. 1978 Jun;12(2):74-9.
Mursu, J., et al. Dietary supplements and mortality rate in older women: The Iowa women’s health study. Archive of Internal Medicine 171(18):1625-1633, 2011.