If you turn on the TV news today or open a newspaper, chances are, you’re going to hear about three new studies in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine that claim vitamin use is unnecessary and may even be harmful in some cases. As a result, the researchers declare you should “stop wasting your money on vitamin and mineral supplements.”
As I lay awake last night with the overnight TV news on, I listened to one doctor not involved in the research being interviewed about his opinion declare that the supplement industry is “stealing” your money and that all the nutrients you need can be found in your daily diet–even a typical “Western” one where fruit, vegetables and whole grains are lacking.
Before you throw away your vitamins and minerals and think you’ve been taken by vitamin companies, I’d like to offer my own opinion as a longtime health journalist who’s written extensively about supplement use and the many studies that prove their effectiveness.
First, I want to point out that the researchers of these new studies focused on the effect multivitamins have on major illnesses. In one study that reviewed over two dozen trials, they found multivitamins didn’t lower one’s risk of cancer or heart disease. Another study of over 5,900 men found that supplements didn’t slow cognitive decline. And a third study found that multivitamins had no benefit for heart attack patients who took them to prevent further heart damage.
Even if there is no clear benefit of taking a multivitamin with minerals for preventing major illnesses, this does not discount the use of supplements for other health problems. Truth is, research has proven that many vitamins, minerals and nutrients have a positive effect on key areas of your health. For instance, it’s widely accepted that women who plan to get pregnant should be taking folic acid to prevent birth defects. Doctors are well aware that most people are deficient in vitamin D, a nutrient that acts more like a hormone in the body and has a wide range of proven health benefits including reducing premenstrual symptoms. Women are prone to being low in iron, especially vegetarians and vegans whose primary source of iron is non-heme (from plants) that’s more difficult to absorb, which can lead to fatigue and mental fogginess. Vitamin E can prevent menstrual cramps. A wide array of supplements–including magnesium, coenzyme Q10 and a bunch of B vitamins–can cut down the frequency and intensity of migraines. And the list goes on.
While it would be optimal to get all these vitamins and minerals in the therapeutic dosages from foods and beverages, in many cases you simply can’t because that would mean consuming about 10,000 calories per day and moving to an area where you the sun’s rays produce vitamin D all year long.
So, when you hear the next newscaster or medical expert claiming you’re a sucker if you buy supplements based on a report that studied multivitamin use for preventing three major health problems, just remember all the studies that prove a nutrient’s other benefits and think of how your own physical or mental health has improved as a result of taking them. Then, you can make a balanced decision about whether or not to continue putting vitamins and minerals in your shopping basket.