A study was recently published by Annals of Internal Medicine regarding the effectiveness of multivitamins in the prevention of heart attack and cognitive disease, such as Alzheimer's. The conclusion drawn from these two very extensive studies was the same: Multivitamins do not work and people should stop taking them. Of course, as a chiropractor and nutritionist, I felt the need to explore this amazing breakthrough in knowledge and check out the study myself. In short, I read what I expected: A ridiculous claim based off of a couple of faulty studies. For those of you who happened to come across this published article that was all over the internet, newspapers, and TV, I hope you find interest in this and continue reading.
Let's begin with where these researchers made their first mistake: Treating a multivitamin like a drug. All supplements are named as such for a reason, to supplement a hopefully healthy diet. These tablets may look, feel, and taste like a drug, but they do not serve the same purpose. Supplements are highly concentrated nutrients which contain vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins, or herbs. These are all compounds found naturally in nature and in food, but simply at much higher levels. The idea behind them is to provide the body with a higher level of nutrients because the body needs these for repair, rejuvenation, and function of every cell in your body. Drugs, on the other hand, are very strong chemicals designed to change or block the body's normal function. To put it more simply, supplements support the body and drugs change the body (not necessarily for the better, I might add).
Let's take a look at the research project designed to test the effectiveness of multivitamins in preventing a heart attack. This study took a very large sample of men who were at least 50 years of age and had already had one heart attack. Let me say that again. This study took patients already diagnosed with heart disease and gave half of them a daily multivitamin to see if it would prevent a second heart attack! This is absolutely ridiculous. A multivitamin is designed to nourish the body with more nutrients, NOT prevent a heart attack in someone with a history of heart disease. By the time an individual has a heart attack, such significant damage has been done that no multivitamin is going to reverse that. The expectation of these researchers during this study was far beyond any reasonable expectation for a nutritional supplement and the multivitamin was set up for failure before the study even began.
The same story goes for the study of cognitive function. This research took nearly 6000 men at least 65 years of age and gave half of them a multivitamin to determine whether or not that would prevent cognitive diseases. Like all diseases, cognitive diseases are affected by a lifetime of damage. Over the decades, as people are exposed to numerous toxins through their environment, damage to their body is inevitable and taking care of your body through healthy lifestyle habits helps combat this damage. However, taking a sample of men who have had at least 65 years of damage and expecting a multivitamin to prevent the development of disease is not reasonable. The multivitamin was used in this research the way a drug is used and the two are not the same at all. The sample size in this study is impressive, as well as the length of time the study was performed. Due to those impressive numbers, the study sounds extensive and nearly flawless. The problem lies in the fact that multivitamins were being used with faulty expectations that supplement companies don't even claim. That's like me testing out cars for air travel and coming to the conclusion that they can't fly.
This research is frustrating. What is even more frustrating is that this study even states that no definite conclusions could be drawn from the results. Due to the fact that roughly half of the participants did not abide by the instructions to take their vitamin and/or medications as recommended, the results were terribly skewed. This is stated within the research projections themselves! Despite the inconsistencies in the studies, they were still published and they still decided to draw the conclusion that multivitamins were not effective. Sounds to me like they didn't care what the results were! Lastly, the researchers in this production discussed how much money people waste on supplements every year, as the supplement industry made $32 billion in revenue in 2012. While this is a lot of money, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer (coincidentally, one of the companies funding this research) made $59 billion in revenue in 2013! And this was only one of the companies within the industry of pharmaceuticals. Quite a huge difference, in my opinion!
In the end, two faulty studies were performed with inaccurate results. In addition, the results did not matter to the researchers and they drew whatever conclusions they wanted to make their argument sound better. Finally, the media jumped on the research "findings" and ran the story everywhere, making anyone who uses supplements question whether or not they should continue to do so. I will tell you directly that I have no affiliation with any supplement company and I will still tell you that supplementing a high quality supplement into your daily diet can benefit you. It simply adds more nutrients into your diet and will therefore help support your body and its natural functions. A multivitamin alone will not make you healthy, but making it a practice ALONG WITH a healthy diet and regular exercise is going to promote a healthy aging process and it will pay off in the end. For the beginning of 2014, make it your New Year's Resolution to treat your body better and I will help you do so.