Know your source and understand the data: A response to recent report against the need for vitamins and supplements.
I was a bit surprised to open the CNN website on the Internet and see the following headline “Are multivitamins a waste of money? Editorial in medical journal says yes”. The Journal referred to is the Annals of Internal Medicine, so there I went. I quickly recognized that as often happens, CNN went for the catchy headline rather than the real story. The two articles in the Annals actually were regarding the use of vitamins and supplements for specific conditions or reasons: One was regarding the effect of multivitamins on cognitive function in men, and the other was on the use of high-dose vitamins and minerals after a heart attack. Granted in these two articles the results did not support the benefits.
A closer look at these and other studies on vitamins and supplements raises an important question as to who is conducting these studies, the doses used, and what end-points are studied. For example, studies using low-potency grocery store vitamins are really not useful. Unfortunately, many of these studies are conducted by those used to conducting pharmaceutical studies. These typically use end-points largely related to mortality, length of hospital stay or length of time in the ICU, measures of hospital cost. Other objective data such as decrease in LDL cholesterol are often used, with reductions of 15% considered a positive result although improved survival has not been attributed to these approved drugs either. Additionally, studies of very low dose vitamins or supplements are emphasized, or those for a very narrow spectrum of desired effect, rather than therapeutic doses of high quality supplements. Paying attention to the dosage, and the intended results is important when looking at which supplements are right for you. Many of the benefits that we have come to expect from our own use of vitamins and supplements are not typically that easy to measure. Also, to be quite frank, they are not worth the medical communities’ time or money to study, especially without the support of Big Pharma. The outcomes of better overall health and well-being and other known benefits of vitamins and supplements are difficult to study objectively on a large scale. That does not mean it is a ‘waste of money’ as CNN stated. The most basic argument in support of vitamins and supplements is the fact that most people do not even get their minimum recommended dose of many vitamins by diet alone. Those ‘minimum’ values are very outdated and do not consider the benefits of high vitamin and supplement positive effects.
In going back to the CNN headline, they go out of their way to point out that the vitamin and supplement market is a 12 billion dollar a year market. Sound like a lot? Not even close by pharmaceutical standards. A single drug like Lipitor generated over 130 billion before going off patent in 2011. So why wouldn't Big Pharma support the use of relatively inexpensive Fish Oil over a Statin drug such as Lipitor? It seems fairly obvious. I for one do not need CNN or the Annals of Internal Medicine to tell me what my body, mind and health need. Vitamins and supplements serve a purpose in my life and, to me, are worth every penny!