A recent study from a university in the Northwestern United States published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed 84 studies on a variety of vitamin therapies and concluded that vitamins were a waste of money. The US Preventive Services Task Force (US PSTF) has suggested that there is insufficient evidence that multivitamins, paired supplements, or single supplements can prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer in non-pregnant adults. otherwise healthy.
The article went on to state that beta-carotene may possibly increase the risk of lung cancer and that vitamin E was of no benefit.
It is estimated that in the United States alone, approximately $50 billion is spent annually on a variety of supplements. The researchers also suggested that if a person is lacking in vitamins they would benefit from taking supplements, but we should get all of our vitamins, minerals and trace metals from good quality foods.
They did, however, suggest that folic acid was useful during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida and there is also evidence to suggest that older people may need oral calcium and vitamin D.
First, let me state that I strongly disagree with this analysis for the following reasons:
1) There is no doubt that we should all eat 2-3 fruits per day and 3-5 servings of vegetables per day (one serving is half a carrot). It is estimated that less than 10% of the population would ingest this amount of fruit and vegetables daily.
2) People who consume this amount of fruits and vegetables daily have the lowest rates of heart disease and cancer in the community.
3) It appears that this particular study ignored longer-term analyzes of vitamin ingestion.
4) Most of the studies analyzed were from the United States where their supplements are manufactured to food standards. A study of products from 300 different companies found that approximately 95% were contaminated or did not contain what is stated on the bottle. In Australia, our vitamins are pharmaceutical grade and what it says on the bottle is actually in the bottle, free of contaminants.
5) This review seems to have completely ignored one of the largest and longest multivitamin studies in the world, conducted by Harvard University. The combination of the ‘Nurses’ Health Study’ and the ‘Male Doctors Trial’ has followed 180,000 people now for a total of 30 years and looked at a huge range of different health parameters. A subset of this very large and comprehensive study looked at multivitamin consumption.
Use of multivitamins in the male component of the trial showed no benefit up to 10 years, but when the data was analyzed at 10 years there was an 8% reduction in cataracts and common cancers . In the female component at age 15, there was a 75% reduction in bowel cancer, a 25% reduction in breast cancer, and a 23% reduction in cardiovascular disease from taking the daily multivitamin alone.
When the data in men was analyzed at age 20, there was a 44% reduction in cardiovascular disease.
Although Homo sapiens is not a particularly docile species and there aren’t too many people disciplined enough to take a multivitamin daily for such an extended period of time.
The study was done in the Boston area, which is a much more affluent part of America where they tend to eat better and exercise more regularly than, say, a place like Iowa . A study from Iowa that examined 39,000 women for 19 years showed no benefit from taking a multivitamin daily.
The take home message here is that we are talking about supplements, not substitutes, for a healthy lifestyle. Many years ago an analysis was done on a variety of vitamins taken by about 1 million people over a number of years showing that there was a reasonable benefit to taking a multivitamin in addition to a healthy lifestyle, but this benefit was negated in obese people and those who smoked.
The story of beta-carotene is very interesting and comes from a study published in 1994 in Finland which examined the daily use of synthetic beta-carotene 20 mg for eight years and showed a slight increase in lung cancer. The same study used synthetic vitamin E, 50 IU and showed a slight trend in reduction of prostate cancer in 29,000 Finnish male smokers.
The message here is not to avoid natural supplements, but firstly not to smoke and secondly not to take the low quality synthetic vitamins that were used in the study. Despite this, the current analysis still uses data from this very flawed study that was done nearly 30 years ago.
Worse still with the comments concerning vitamin E which were essentially based on an analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2004 by researcher Professor Edgar Miller where he suggested that vitamin E was of no use and could possibly cause harm. This was an analysis of 11 different trials of vitamin E, averaging 400 international units per day, where the vast majority of these trials used synthetic vitamin E and usually vitamin E in isolation. In the three trials that combined vitamin E without the supplements, the vitamin E was entirely synthetic.
There have only been two trials in the history of evidence-based medicine using natural vitamin E combined with vitamin C and both trials showed a 25% reduction in the progression of atherosclerosis in the arteries carotids. It’s just by taking simple, harmless supplements.