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More ‘Multi-’ Mumbo Jumbo

MultivitaminsReading Beyond Headlines to Get Full Story of Latest “Anti-Multi” Claims

Head to any “Health” section of your favorite news website and you’re likely to find a headline that says multivitamins don’t work, that their perceived benefits are just that, and that they have no impact on one’s avoidance of killer diseases like heart disease and cancer.

The notion that multivitamins don’t work is not some new mantra for the “multi-“mockers; it’s been a constant and consistent drumbeat played out for decades.  It’s why I rarely bother to read them when they make news because I know they’re just gobbledygook, filled with flawed testing procedures on flawed products (not all multivitamins are built the same).

But just for kicks, to see what new tricks the vitamin bashers have resorted to, I decided to read the most recent of put-downs.  This one was provided by MSNBC.

Not surprisingly, the piece stars off with the “breaking news” that multivitamins don’t provide the body with a multiplicity of benefits, the conclusions coming after “the longest study ever” on everyone’s favorite one-a-day.  But as I dug deeper into the article’s text, it became more and more apparent just how void of conclusiveness the study’s findings actually were.

For instance, while the beginning of the article points out the conclusions of the study’s lead author – i.e. that those taking and not taking multivitamins are at equivalent risks with regards to heart disease and cancer – you have to go to the middle of the article to find a bevy of caveats, noted by the study’s co-author herself.  For instance, the study was only observational; in other words, there weren’t any real scientific studies done on other variables that might have factored into their results, like what the women ate in the course of the study, what their exercise levels were and what their family histories were with respect to heart disease and cancer. 

Secondly, the study itself was somewhat restricted in timeframe, as certain forms of cancer often take years to develop.

Thirdly – a critique of the article rather than the study’s authors– the study was restricted to older women, yet the headline of the news article reads, “Multivitamins no cancer, heart help, study says.”  That’s a sweeping conclusion to come to when the study only tested one age bracket and one gender.

Fourth, in a statement that brings new meaning to stating the obvious, the study’s co-author, from the Huchinson Cancer Research Institute in Washington State, said this: “Whole foods are better than dietary supplements.” 

Gee, ya think?  Thank you Captain Obvious! 

I don’t know of a single natural health advocate – no credible one, anyway – who favors taking dietary supplements over eating whole foods.  After all, supplements are called supplements for a reason – they SUPPLEMENT one’s diet on the days in which one doesn’t get the proper amount of vitamins from whole food sources.

Fifth, Dr. Manson, the study’s co-author, almost goes back on her and her colleague’s conclusions when she says that multivitamins serve as a “form of insurance” for those occasions in which we don’t get the proper amount of nutrients from food.  Medical insurance protects us from having to pay exorbitant amounts when we get sick or injured.  But if multivitamins are of little worth, as this study suggests, why would she advocate using multivitamins as a form of insurance?

There are many other questions I’d like to pose – like what the diet plans were for these women, what medications they were taking and what kind of multivitamin they were using – but I think you get my drift.

We are all news consumers.  Headlines come from all directions – on screen, online, on radio and in print.  Because few of us can spend gobs of time reading a story in all its detail, news purveyors take out the flashiest parts of a story and post them either in the headline itself or in the first paragraph.  This is the classic case of putting style over substance – the “flash” that multivitamins don’t work up at the top of the article, while the substance (that multivitamins are still good to take) on the bottom.

If more people took time to read the full extent of a story and how the study’s lead author is very non-committal regarding the study’s findings, I think people would walk away with a different take on whether or not multivitamins are worth taking. 

But, as the saying goes, “If it bleeds it leads.”


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Comment from Stuart Lubin
Time February 19, 2009 at 10:10 pm

I am sure that the medical schools sponsor these tests. And the pharmaceutical companies give money grants to these medical schools. So, they test with too little supplement: Vit C, 500 mg.instead of a gram, or better, 2 grams, probably without any bioflavenoids. Vit E is always synthetic,
dl alpha tocopheryl acetate. These tricksters test LAETRILE, a substance coming from Mexico, perported to relieve the pain of advanced cancer. It failed the test. The researchers administered it every 12th day! They also use terminal patients who are so far gone that they are doomed to death anyway.

Comment from Dianne
Time February 19, 2009 at 11:03 pm

I have read that in order for vitamins to be absorbed you need good colloidal minerals and for minerals to be properly absorded/utilized you need enzymes. It is the wholistic approach that needs to be examined not a multi vitamin that lacks synergy within the body.

Comment from Richard Rushing
Time February 20, 2009 at 7:16 am

A radio health program this week stated that in this study, they did not administer any vitamins, they had no scientific data at all, they just asked people if they took mulits. Well everyone will say that they do, but few take them regularly and one-a-day is what is in their mind when they answer. Worthless chemical substitutes for real nutrients.

Comment from kenneth
Time February 20, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Hi, I’ve been taking supplements before I was 15,I’m 76 now,however people make my age as 50, I wonder what I would like if I had’nt taken them ?

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