I'm sure you've seen the headlines splashed across almost every newspaper, web site, and television station. Doctors say "the case is closed for multivitamins." They don't help and can actually hurt you!
So is it true? Of course not!
First of all, what the media so eagerly lapped up was an editorial written by five doctors.
The main author of the editorial is Dr. Edgar Miller. Dr. Miller is a highly respected researcher for Johns Hopkins. Conventional medicine holds him in very high regard. Dr. Miller somewhat regularly publishes the results of meta-studies that bash supplements. A meta-study, as you may know, is a study of other studies. They look at a bunch of studies, take the results they like, group them together, and draw a conclusion.
If the researchers don't cherry pick the results, meta-studies can be useful. But no self-respecting researcher would take the results of any meta-study as the be-all-to-end-all. For that matter, no self-respecting scientist would declare that "the case is closed." And, yet, that is just what Dr. Miller does in his editorial.
The first study Dr. Miller evaluated in drawing his conclusion was a meta-analysis of 27 studies. This meta-analysis showed that multivitamins don't have any beneficial effect on preventing cardiovascular disease or cancer. Well, did Dr. Miller cherry pick the studies he used? We know in the past that his team did cherry pick studies.
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In 2004, Dr. Miller conducted a meta-analysis on vitamin E. The BBC picked up his story and ran with the headline "High dose vitamin E death warning." But Dr. Miller's team looked at studies that didn't evaluate how healthy people would respond to vitamin E supplements. And, even worse, his team looked at studies that researched only synthetic vitamin E. With a history of cherry picking, we have to think it's a reasonable possibility in his latest study.
What's more, his editorial completely ignores one study that showed a statistically significant reduction in cancer rates. If a drug got these same results, it would be big, positive news. But Dr. Miller chose not to mention that one - again, cherry picking his studies.
Dr. Miller also looked at two other studies. One wanted to know if multivitamins helped prevent second heart attacks. To me, the very premise of the study is foolish. Do you think a low-dose multivitamin has the ability to prevent heart attacks in someone who has already had a heart attack? Of course you don't!
And, the final study followed nearly 6,000 doctors over the age of 65. All of them took either a multivitamin or a placebo for 12 years. The study found that the multivitamin didn't make any difference in their cognitive function. What Dr. Miller doesn't tell you is that these doctors were all healthy to start with and they were very health-conscious, well-nourished individuals. They were not a valid representative of the population as a whole. So, to draw a definitive conclusion for everyone based on this study is foolish at best.
Most people who take supplements know a simple low-dose multivitamin won't treat serious illness. They take multivitamins to keep their nutrition level high and to help prevent disease from occurring in the first place. But they don't take a multivitamin to treat serious illness.
Unfortunately, the news media doesn't think you're that smart. The media thinks you believe multivitamins are a silver bullet that can cure anything. So the headlines in today's news are bashing multivitamins because they won't treat these serious conditions.
I would love to say that the media just doesn't get it. After all, treating a serious disease with a low-dose multivitamin is like cleaning up a war zone with a bottle of Windex and a paper towel. It just won't work. But the media are showing their true colors more and more. Oh, they get it, alright. And it's very clear what they're doing. At best, it's a poor interpretation of the facts. At worst, it's collusion with the drug companies to undermine the value of supplements.
Some criticize the supplement industry for the amount of money they bring in. But consider this. All supplement companies combined sold only $12 billion in products in 2012. From September 2011 to September 2012, the antipsychotic drug Abilify (aripiprazole) racked up nearly $6.4 billion in sales all by itself. What's more, drugs are the leading cause of death in the U.S. Supplements are nowhere on the list because they almost never even hurt anyone.
The reality is that none of the arguments in Dr. Miller's editorial hold up to any real scrutiny. Unfortunately, the news media doesn't scrutinize these stories. So ignore their headlines and continue to take your high-quality vitamins and supplements.
Your insider for better health,
Steve Kroening is the editor of Nutrient Insider, a twice-a-week email newsletter that brings you the latest healing breakthroughs from the world of nutrition and dietary supplements. For over 20 years, Steve has worked hand-in-hand with some of the nation's top doctors, including Drs. Robert Rowen, Frank Shallenberger, Nan Fuchs, William Campbell Douglass, and best-selling author James Balch. Steve is the author of the book Practical Guide to Home Remedies. As a health journalist, Steve's articles have appeared in countless magazines, blogs, and websites.