Multivitamins: A Multibillion Dollar Waste of Money

Pills Pouring out of BottleIt’s a shame that a multibillion dollar industry is fueled by misleading people. The business of supplementation is championed by big businesses who utilize fear-mongering tactics to influence the public. These companies disseminate biased data and purport ridiculous claims. ‘We are a nation of rising chronic disease, take this multivitamin.’ ‘We are a nation of malnourished kids, take this multivitamin.’ ‘Autism linked to vitamin deficiency, take this multivitamin.’ ‘Agriculture has ruined our soil; it is depleted of nutrients, take this multivitamin.’ It is an infestation of pseudoscience propaganda that gets delivered daily to our email inbox and shared via social media.

Last night, I was in my normal geek mode and came across a news story on my Flipboard feed; Are multivitamins a waste of money?  I was glad to see an article disputing the inaccurate claims made by the industry. The article quotes an editorial published in this week’s Annals of Internal Medicine to support the claim that using supplements and multivitamins to prevent chronic conditions is a waste of money.

Hallelujah!

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Those who follow my blog,  know that I strongly believe the body is an amazing system. If that system is treated properly, it can – in most instances – heal organically. You may have read my blog on the overuse of ice and why ice and NSAIDs are not the answer; these posts talk about organic healing of the neuromusculoskeletal system absent of modalities and medicine. I feel the same about nutrition and supplementation.

Last October, I wrote a post titled “Eat This! Don’t take that!”.  Our body has always been able to do its job, yet every day nearly three-quarters of the population take a supplement. Multivitamins, fish oil, antioxidants, vitamin D, Vitamin E, B-complex vitamins, conjugated linoleic acid, chromium, pyruvate, CoQ10, etc., Why do we suddenly feel it is necessary to incorporate supplements into our diets?

In most cases a well-balanced diet can provide every nutrient we need to combat disease. Have you ever watched the TEDx talk “Minding Your Mitochondria” by Dr. Terry Wahls? If not I highly recommend you do (video below). In short, Dr. Wahls is a physician who underwent chemotherapy to treat multiple sclerosis and eventually became relegated to a tilt-recline wheelchair because of weakness. Dr. Wahls made a dramatic transformation, using diet alone. A hearty, vegetable-rich diet reversed her MS. Within a year, she walked without a cane and even completed an 18-hour bicycle ride. Take the time and watch the amazing video.

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Back to the editorial piece in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Dr. Edgar Miller, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and co-author of the editorial said, The [vitamin and supplement] industry is based on anecdote, people saying ‘I take this, and it makes me feel better’.

The article goes on to state when you put it to the test, there’s no evidence of benefit in the long-term. It can’t prevent mortality, stroke or heart attack. The editorial was based on three studies, which were also published in this week’s Annals of Internal Medicine.

The first study was a meta-analysis of 27 studies that covered more than 450,000 participants and found that multivitamins had no beneficial effect on preventing cardiovascular disease or cancer. The second study looked at 1,700 patients who previously had heart attacks. They were assigned to take three multivitamins or placebos twice a day for five years. This study was inconclusive. The final study followed nearly 6,000 men older than 65, who took either a multivitamin or a placebo for 12 years. The men were administered cognitive functioning tests, and test results found no differences between the two groups.

All that said most Americans are undernourished. I am the prime example: college football Saturday with wings and beer, the ultimate loaded nacho plate on UFC Fight Night and NFL Sunday Ticket with pepperoni pizza, Pepsi, and popcorn. While I know this is wrong, I also know that an artificial, unregulated multivitamin supplement is not the answer. I might be deficient in a few nutrients, but not completely deficient in all. Maybe my vitamin D intake is only 50% of what it should be, but why should I take a multivitamin that provide me an additional 200%? Wouldn’t I only need an additional 50%?  There are toxicity effects to excessive vitamin/mineral intake. I can cause more harm than good by following this concept. If I am that concerned about my health, I need to be a responsible, skip the supplements, and start eating a salad.

12 thoughts on “Multivitamins: A Multibillion Dollar Waste of Money

  1. Petra

    LOVE this article as always your articles are always totally AWESOME and such an insight. I’ve been wondering about vitamins in general because I struggle all the time with should I or should I not. I really liked the discussions at school everyone always would have as well about this. My issue partly here being is that I know I lack in certain areas and I sort of like the thought of a back up. I also have beened bugged by the thought as well though of over doing the vitamin which is a muti once a day. I don’t like the thought to be dependant on anything except for having my own independence. I wonder what your thoughts about organic are I’ve been having milk this way for a while yet have people such as my mother think I’m crazy in spending that kind of money. It would ve cool to read an article on your thoughts on organic at some point. But thank you for the AWESOME article once again.

    Reply
  2. Daniel Jacobs

    Certainly we should all try to go nutritious, eating foods rich in antioxidants, minerals, essential fatty acids and fiber along with the basic macronutrients. But for optimal health, we need to supplement those healthy foods with vital micronutrients. Vitamin C glaringly shows our need for supplements. Most species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish can synthesize vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in their kidneys or livers. Human beings, along with other ape species, cannot — so we have to obtain vitamin C from external sources. See “Save the Gorillas” by Owen Fonorow and Sally Snyder Jewell: http://vitamincfoundation.org/pdfs/gorilla3.pdf

    Animals like cats and dogs make their own vitamin C at a rate equivalent to about 10 grams (10,000 milligrams) per day for a 154-pound human. (See Linus Pauling, “How to Live Longer and Feel Better,” p. 77) How often do you see your cat or dog sneeze, cough, or get a runny nose? How often does your cat or dog come down with a serious cold, strep throat or flu? Our animals’ built-in daily megadoses of vitamin C keep their immune systems lively and protect their cells from free-radical damage.

    To get your pet’s vitamin C equivalent from your food alone, you’d have to eat 100 oranges, 30 yellow bell peppers, or 90 green chili peppers per day. If you weigh far more than 154 pounds, you’d have to eat that much more of such healthy fruits and veggies to keep pace with your pet’s daily dose of vitamin C — unless you take supplements.

    Dr. Terry Wahls’ courageous struggle to overcome multiple sclerosis (MS) inspires confidence in the healing power of a diet rich in varied nutrients. Moreover, she reported some benefit from nutritional supplements: “I found studies in which mouse brains and their mitochondria had been protected using fish oil, creatine, and coenzyme Q[10]. I translated those mouse-sized doses into human-sized ones and began my first round of self-experimentation. The rapidity of my decline slowed, and I was very grateful. But I was still declining…” (from 1:49 to 2:12 in her video, “Minding Your Mitochondria”).

    At that stage in Terry’s illness, I think she would have benefited by expanding her supplements to include lecithin — a fatty molecule that helps form the myelin sheaths protecting nerve fibers, which MS attacks — B vitamins, and vitamin E. See Adelle Davis’ classic nutrition book, “Let’s Get Well,” pages 242-3. Davis reports: “I have seen a number of persons who have recovered from multiple sclerosis when dietary improvement was made soon after the disease had been diagnosed.…In some cases, 600 units of vitamin E taken with each meal — 1,800 units daily — have brought spectacular improvement.”

    In my own study of the scientific literature on vitamin E, I came across a small-scale human trial by George Dowd, published in 1949 and titled, “Massive dosage of alpha-tocopherol [vitamin E] in alleviation of multiple sclerosis.” If you or any of your readers are interested, Joshua, I’d be happy to send you the 3-page text of that study.

    By the way, Josh: Dr. Edgar Miller and other scions of the pharmacological establishment would glibly dismiss Dr. Terry Wahls’ nutritional self-cure of her MS as “anecdotal” — just as they dismiss all reports of health benefits from nutritional supplements as anecdotal.

    The question is not: Should I eat healthy, or take nutritional supplements? The point is: Do both.

    Reply
  3. King

    I generally agree with the premise that “self medicating” with supplements (defined in my mind as 1. nutritional supplements and 2. vitamin supplements) MAY not be as beneficial to our overall health as we think. I have never been a proponent of supplements taken constantly and steadily for the long term. It’s simply the truth at our bodies needs change with seasons, exercise level, external stress from daily activity, age, etc. Everyone on the planet has a body whose needs change.

    Having said that, I’ve spent considerable time researching the process of oxidative stress and it’s impact on our body. This research let me to a relatively new field of nutrigenomics. I strongly recommend that this be investigated by all. I started by looking for a definition in layman’s terms and found it in Wikipedia.

    From this branch of science, researching among other things, the way in which the nutrients we consume work with our genome for either good or ill in terms of overall health. This field has made some breakthrough discoveries. One of the subfields which is particularly active in recent years is researching the effect of nutrition on oxidative stress.

    Did you know that if you consume a food which is high in antioxidant properties, one molecule of that blueberry (or whatever it is) will go after one free radical. Also discovered in this field are three basic enzymes which our genome structure “express” which then go after free radicals at an unbelievable rate. There is one product that I know of which has been peer reviewed in a number of research studies, and proven to create the effect of attacking free radicals at a rate of 1,000,000 per second every second for each molecule of the “supplement”. Sound unbelievable? The researchers thought so too and set about to prove it wrong. Couldn’t do it. This is an entirely new approach to reducing oxidative stress which is at the root of countless diseases and conditions.

    Go to http://www.pubmed.gov and enter oxidative stress in the search bar. You’ll be shocked. Today there are 121,393 published studies of this not well understood health threat. I entered “oxidative stress and exercise”. There are 3,116 studies on this alone. Enter oxidative stress and almost any disease or condition you can think of.

    Botttom line – DO THE RESEARCH FOR YOURSELF. Don’t put all your faith in the popular press.

    THANKS TO Josh for bringing this somewhat controversial topic to us. It’s a big one and needs a good FACT BASED discussion. Not a closed issue at all

    Wishing all a very happy Holiday season filled with good health and happiness.

    Reply
  4. Dr John Whiteside

    I was very disappointed to read this entry in your blog . I was recently attracted to your site after reading your comments about the lack of science regarding icing. I am a doctor who specializes in the treatment of myofascial pain. I thoroughly agree that all injuries should be heated.

    Josh, you must spend some of your valuable time and do the appropriate training in nutritional medicine. A4M is the world standard.

    To be ignorant of something so simple and important as the need for high dose magnesium in all athletes is totally unacceptable for someone as intelligent as you. Magnesium is essential for optimal post exercise recovery and is cardio protective in all athletes in high intensity events, and critically essential in the older demographic. Sudden death during exercise is strongly associated with low tissue magnesium.

    Join the newsletters at GreenMedInfo and NaturalNews to begin your learning curve about the poor quality and polluted nature of our food supply. In an ideal world with crystal clear water and clean air where we consume a paleolithic diet fresh from the source I agree we do not need nutritional supplements. But that is not the world we live in. We need massive amounts of additional anti-oxidants to even try to restore our natural balance.

    Josh, if you set yourself up as an authority, please do the training .

    Reply
    1. Daniel Jacobs

      Can taking baths in hot water with Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) crystals mixed in, help in recovery from intense exercise and/or joint injuries?

      Reply
      1. Dr John Whiteside

        Absolutely. Hot baths should be a standard component of all post match recovery programs. Adding magnesium into the bath is even better. Include a drink with 500mg of elemental magnesium, a teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate (to alkalinize the tissues), and two gm of vitamin C powder, and you will have excellent post exercise recovery. Never ice anything.

        Reply
    2. Daniel Jacobs

      Thanks, Dr. Whiteside! That’s 2,000 milligrams (2,000 mg = 2 grams) of vitamin C powder mixed into the magnesium/baking-soda drink, folks.

      Reply
  5. King

    Sorry but I don’t get it. I’m not a Dr. or clinical researcher but have taken the time to try and understand the science by studying the research reports. Question – Where will I find the research on this mix of elemental magnesium and baking soda? For folks who pride themselves on cutting into the lack of research with supplements (which – btw – I’m not in favor of) I note a glaring absence of references to research for what you’re proposing. Not saying it’s not there but – – -.

    Reply
    1. Dr John Whiteside

      Dear King,

      PubMed has over 2,000 entries for magnesium supplementation. Magnesium is a cofactor in over 300 enzymic reactions in the body. It is part of the standard protocol in coronary care units to protect the heart muscle after myocardial infarction. This is Nutritional Medicine 101.

      The use of bicarbonate loading is in routine use in the racehorse industry. It is legally allowed on non race days as it improves post exercise recovery. It is illegal to use this on race day as it is regarded as a performance enhancing drug. The use of a teaspoon of bicarbonate after exercise, or as a loading before exercise is safe and effective.

      Use PubMed and enter bicarbonate and exercise. There are over 2,700 references.

      I admit to being confused with your last entry. Your first entry spoke enthusiastically about your literature search supporting the value of anti-oxidant supplements in sport, then your last entry appears to find fault in my advice to use two well accepted supplements, magnesium and bicarbonate, to aid recovery.

      Reply
      1. King

        Thanks for the reference – I’ll take a look. My primary interest is in the studies which have been able to prove that the most effective approach to reducing oxidative stress, whether exercise induced or not, is to improve our ability to eliminate free radicals on a massive scale. DARPA has a study underway involving members of the Navy Seals using a product called Protandim. Waiting for those results as they should be interesting not only for the effects of extreme exertion but including an altitude factor as well. Should be interesting.

        Reply

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