An article was recently released from the Wall Street Journal entitled, “Multivitamins Found to Have Little Benefit: No Effect Seen in Preventing Cognitive Decline, Heart Disease.”
Having worked for a vitamin company as the nutrition specialist, previously as the supplement specialist at Whole Foods Market, and also having earned a Masters in Integrative Health Studies, of course I have an opinion about this article and the way it was written. A friend and I were discussing it via email, and she suggested that I post my opinion on my new blog. I agreed, so here it is. It’s a little bit of a rant, but these things get me fired up.
Studies like this come out every once in a while that slam vitamins in a very broad, overreaching way. Using Centrum brand as the multivitamin variable in these studies greatly weakens the credibility of the studies and demolishes the right to state that:
Multivitamins offer almost no benefit in preventing chronic disease “and they should be avoided.”
The variance in quality and potency among vitamin and supplement brands on the market is huge, and Centrum is on the lower end of the spectrum. Because the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements, there’s no “official” way to differentiate quality.
That being said, I totally agree that in an ideal world, people would eat a healthy enough diet that no one would need a multivitamin. Unfortunately, not only does that not happen in impoverished countries that have greatly benefited from certain enriched foods, but it also hasn’t happened in our own country, past and present (this is why we iodize salt, this is why we enrich wheat, this is why we add calcium to orange juice). I’m not saying that eating those enriched foods is the best thing for you either, I’m just saying there’s a reason the food industry started enriching back in the day. Most people don’t eat enough kelp for iodine, liver for B vitamins, or bone broth/sardines/etc for calcium. Today, with the ever-rising incidence of chronic disease in this country, I agree with the article that the best bet is to quit smoking, exercise, and lose weight. If only it were that easy.
Are multivitamins the answer to chronic disease? Absolutely not. I don’t necessarily think, having worked in that industry from multiple points of view, that multivitamin companies are purporting to be the answer to chronic disease (like heart disease and cancer in the studies listed in the article). There are many reasons to take a multivitamin, and many reasons to take individual vitamins, minerals, and supplements. I think it’s interesting that they point out how dangerous high doses of vitamin A are (can be true in certain instances), while failing to mention that prescription drugs like Accutane are precisely megadoses of vitamin A.
Truth be told, unfortunately our food supply isn’t as stellar as it once was. Most soils on commercial farms are depleted and don’t impart the levels of certain nutrients into the food that they once did. Not everyone is as lucky as we are to live in a place where organic food, farmers’ markets, and backyard gardens are so plentiful. Most Americans/Westerners sustain on food that’s easy to warm up or easy to take-out. Until that changes, multivitamins may still have a place at the table to “fill in the gaps.”
I don’t know that reputable research will ever be done that differentiates between the quality of something like Centrum or something like SuperNutrition or New Chapter, because no one would pay to fund that study, but in my mind, quality and potency make all the difference.
Furthermore, lumping “most supplements” in with Centrum Silver and making a broad statement that they should all be avoided is irresponsible and stupid. I myself don’t take a multivitamin, but am perfectly happy to take cod liver oil, fish oil, extra vitamin D in the winter, extra vitamin A (under doctor’s supervision) for acne issues, herbal supplements for sleep, minerals for sleep or digestive issues, to open up a vitamin E capsule and rub it on a scar, and the list goes on. There is no way any one (or two) study(ies) could cover all the possible benefits of vitamins, minerals, or other supplements at varying potency and quality.
Publications that reach as broad an audience as the Wall Street Journal should think twice before creating alarm around a multifaceted issue that requires far more unpacking than can be done in any one (or two) study(ies). It would make far more sense to address the fact that the massive industry is not as regulated as it should be. I’m certainly not suggesting that a government entity as flawed as the FDA get involved, but because vitamin and supplement companies cannot and do not make any health claims on their packaging, far more is allowed in than should be (i.e. the garbage that’s inside the capsules of many weight loss and body building products). That topic alone could fill 20 blogs and veers in a whole new direction, so I’ll stop there.
Rant over. 🙂 I’d love to see any opinions on this from the blogosphere, so please comment!