Multivitamin Media Madness – behind the headlines

Healthy by Nature radio show this week
We will continue the discussion about booze that we started in September with Janet Chrzan, PhD, a nutritional anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Alcohol. I’ll ask about college drinking, binge drinking. (The topic seems appropriate with New Year’s Eve almost here.) Then we switch to dyslexia (see what I did there with the lame pun?). What is it exactly and can it be reversed? Dr. Phyllis Books seems to think so, given that title of her book is Reversing Dyslexia. Call the live show at 1-800-281-8255. Click here to find podcasts, show archives and how to listen nationwide.

What’s the real story?
This is NOT what I wanted to do this week! However, the mindless campaign against supplements gained some big time headlines this week. A recent medical journal editorial commented on three studies that looked at the effects of multivitamins on prevention of heart attacks and cancer, as well as improving brain function in men (older than 65). The opinion piece basically said that multivitamins must be useless because they didn’t seem to prevent deaths from certain diseases.
Most of you know better than to put any credence in these silly stories, but, since the evening news sounds so authoritative, I thought you might need some facts to help you convince doubters around you. Nutrition author, radio host and blogger, Bill Sardi, is not only much smarter than I am, but he also gets many of the full journal articles, not just the abstracts that I have easy access to. So, I was thrilled when he quickly responded with a rebuttal. He was kind enough to give me permission to reproduce as much of it here as I liked. The following is all basically Bill unless you see my thoughts italicized in these [brackets].

Multivitamins: Unfairly Slammed In Recent Analysis.
The journal commentary and study design. None of the three studies in the review accurately represents the American population according to Gladys Block, professor of nutrition at University of California Berkeley, in a CNN interview. She also specifically pointed out that one of them was conducted on very health-conscious well-nourished physicians with no health problems or known nutrient deficiencies.

The studies were actually what are called large meta-analyses which involve reviewing other [mismatched] studies. They simply provide no meaningful instruction to individuals.  They can [at best…] only be used to develop global health strategies such as food fortification.  These studies do not attempt to address individuals with nutrient deficiencies, which are rampant.  Yet mindless reporters write headline articles that mischaracterize the best weapon against nutrient-related deficiencies – the multivitamin.
One study concluded that 12-year use of multivitamins by physicians over age 65 provided no benefits in regard to age-related brain disease.  However, prominent Harvard nutritionist Walter Willett, has noted previously that no brain benefits for beta carotene supplements were shown at 12 years in another study – it took 18 years before a measurable benefit showed up! [Beta carotene should always be supplemented as a complex with other carotenes. The old Finnish study that cast doubt on Beta carotene for smokers was flawed. Smokers should be careful to get a broad range of antioxidants.]

The multivitamins used. Most multivitamins are poorly formulated, weakly dosed, improperly balanced and are missing key nutrients to maintain health. Therefore, there is no conceivable way they would meaningfully reduce disease-related mortality rates.  The authors of the study said: “in most cases data are insufficient to draw any conclusion.”  And ironically, if multivitamins were in fact found to reduce death rates, they would be declared drugs by the Food & Drug Administration!

The study concedes that the multivitamins under analysis didn’t even raise blood levels of vitamin E, C, selenium or zinc. The only multivitamin data analyzed among women provided only five nutrients and authors of the report said “it could be argued there are no data on a true multivitamin for women.”  [In my article on supplements I discuss how nutritionally lame and potentially toxic some of the highly advertised brands are.]

And in another study published in the same edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine that concluded high-dose multivitamins did not statistically reduce heart attacks among patients after they had experienced a first heart attack—half of the subjects in that study stopped taking their vitamins, which should nullify any conclusions. [Some of these studies call anything greater than the pitiful government minimums as high dose. The other concerns about form, quality, balance, etc. all still apply.]

Having formulated multivitamins for a major supplier and having written a book on how to rate multivitamins, first let me say that the recent multivitamin analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (no study was conducted, this is an analysis of previously published studies) compares so many brands of multivitamins that provide different arrays, doses and types of essential nutrients that makes any conclusions moot. [i.e. meaningless if the benefits expected from superior products like those of our sponsors are lumped with inferior ones like I wrote about. The masses take that kind of vitamin from discount stores.]

Most of these brands of multivitamins were formulated years ago and do not address currently known science. [And their focus is profits, not disease prevention, so they typically use the cheapest ingredients at token doses regardless of efficacy.]

For example, the Vitamin D Council suggests 4000 IU (international units) of vitamin D to sufficiently raise blood levels [into the optimum range], but most of the multivitamins in the recently published analysis provided no more than 400 IU.  [So, they contain only 10% of what it would take to show major benefit!]

The same goes for vitamin C.  Provision of a single paltry dose of vitamin C once a day for this water soluble vitamin that is readily excreted would not raise blood levels significantly over a 24-hour day.  Steve Hickey PhD of Manchester, England [hear his interview on our show] has demonstrated 500 mg of vitamin C must be taken to significantly raise blood levels of vitamin C and then repeated 5 times in a day.

Summary. Multivitamins may or may not reduce disease-related death rates [some studies show they do, e.g. see below], but they do make up for gaps in the American diet (high in processed food) and presumably prevent many prevalent dietary deficiencies (vitamin B12, vitamin B1, vitamin C, magnesium, zinc) [A deficiency of any of these is well known to lead to disease]. That makes it [grossly] unfair to characterize multvitamins as a waste of money.
And let’s not hear that all the nutrients needed for health can be acquired from a good diet.  The National Institutes of Health’s 5-A-Day plant food diet did not reduce mortality rates for cancer or heart disease. Also, the currently recommended 9-13 servings a day recommendation is still unproven.

Hey reporters, where is your story about this study?
There were 30% fewer deaths among women with invasive breast cancer if they were taking a multivitamin! This was not a small, short term study either. For a mean of 7.1 years, researchers followed, 7,728 women aged 50-79 who were enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) conducted in 40 clinical sites across the United States. They had all been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. LINK. Note: the participants were not given special super-duper supplements but rather remained on whatever they had chosen to take.

We had enough sponsor products to give 4 prize boxes worth $375 each! Winners included one that entered at the office (Kathy Kelly), two who sent us emails (Bernice Porter and Lorraine Stromberg) plus one that signed up for the newsletter during the period (Patricia Keene). Congratulations! Click here to see what they won.

Last Week Follow-up
LINK to that show in the archives. Our guest was Fred Pescatore, MD, integrative physician to the rich and famous in Manhattan. We talked about some health issues most people don’t associate with gut bacteria: Skin Conditions, Joint Pain, Bone Health and Mood / Memory. Check out this recent NPR interview about anxiety and critters in the gut. One caller asked him to tie hardening of the arteries to the gut and he did. He was a guest on a Sean Hannity TV panel of doctors. LINK.

Please help spread the good word-forward this newsletter to friends and family.
My first book : Natural Alternatives to Nexium, Maalox, Tagamet, Prilosec & Other Acid Blockers. Subtitle: What to Use to Relieve Acid Reflux, Heartburn, and Gastric Ailments.

My latest book: Aloe Vera-Modern Science Sheds Light on an Ancient Herbal Remedy

The information contained in this newsletter has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. The contents are for informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice.

Copyright 2013 Martie Whittekin, CCN

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