Do Multivitamins Really Work?
In our last two articles we used two examples that bring into question the merits of supplementation, one determined that vitamin D supplementation is unnecessary and should instead be obtained via food and sunlight, the other found that deficiency was common and should be addressed via oral supplements or injection (after examining diet). Let’s take a look at supplements like multivitamins and see what the consensus is.
Nutritional supplements are big business, it’s the #1 industry in Utah, grossing over $7 billion annually (and growing over 10% per year). I can speak from personal experience with regard to the popularity of the supplement business in Utah, having regularly visited the state for many years, and every taxi to/from the airport – each flight to/from Utah I end up talking to a number of chemists employed doing research and development for nutrition companies based in Utah. We won’t dig too far into the ins and outs of Utah’s state economy and how they affect country-wide laws (e.g. “proprietary blend” terminology, the absence of FDA approval when producing supplements, making statements regarding what Supplement A or B “does” – and said statements don’t require FDA approval despite being a consumable ‘health’ product), but we will instead examine a panel that asserted that “three studies find the supplements don’t help extend life or ward off heart disease and memory loss.”
“[Dr. Eliseo] Guillar and his co-authors urged people to stop spending money on multivitamins,” having stated that “we believe that its’ clear that vitamins are not working.” Even Duffy MacKay, representing the Council for Responsible Nutrition stated that “we all need to manage our expectations about why we’re taking multivitamins.” Part of the problem may be linked to a lack of education – in the US most public schools place minimal emphasis on nutritional education (if any) and attempt to manage student eating habits via what can be served in the school cafeteria and what’s allowed in vending machines. The other methodology seen in the US is the soda tax, not unlike the tobacco tax, which is a method of discouraging consumption by raising prices. While these methods certainly do see results (“every 10 percent increase in cigarette prices reduces youth smoking by about seven percent and total cigarette consumption by about four percent” – and that’s all money that goes straight to the state), they don’t do much in the form of getting consumers to understand the link between their health choices and the consequences until much later.
“Research shows that the two main reasons people take multivitamins are for overall health and wellness and to fill in nutrient gaps…science still demonstrates that multivitamins work for those purposes…” MacKay’s statements are not confirmed by Guallar, he claims that “it’s not clear that taking supplements to fill gaps…translates into any kind of health boost.”
The first two studies involved less than 10,000 people and both determined that supplements didn’t aide either group in neither memory benefits nor heart health. The third study involved almost half a million people and “found no evidence that supplements offer a benefit for heart disease or that they delay death from any cause.”
Guallar concluded his research with the following statement: “The probability of a meaningful effect is so small that it’s not worth doing study after study and spending research dollars on these questions.”
Image source: http://www.anh-usa.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Supplement.jpg
Primary source cited: http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/news/20131216/experts-dont-waste-your-money-on-multivitamins