Are MultiVitamins a Waste of Money?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Nutritiion

The Multivitamin Controversy You Never Heard About

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

money-waste Are multivitamins a waste of money?  You probably saw the recent headlines telling you that “the experts” have concluded that multivitamins are a waste of money. The article (Gualler et al., Annals of Internal Medicine, 159: 850-851, 2013) that generated all of the headlines was an editorial, which means it was an opinion piece, not a scientific study. It represented the opinion of five very prominent doctors, but it was, at the end of the day, just their opinion.

At the time I pointed out fallacies of their arguments in a “Health Tips From the Professor” article (MultiVitamins-Waste Money?). But, what do I know? I have only published 114 papers in peer reviewed journals and two book chapters on nutrition.

It turns out that I’m not the only expert who feels this way. Five very prominent experts recently published rebuttals concluding that the authors of the original editorial ignored “decades of nutrition research and diet monitoring of the U.S. population to reach this misleading conclusion” (Frei et al, Annals of Internal Medicine, 160: 807-809, 2014).

Who Are These Experts?

Before I share what these experts said, I should probably share their qualifications:

Balz Frei, PhD

  • Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry & Biophysics & Director of the Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University
  • 203 publications

Bruce N. Ames, PhD

  • Director of the Nutrition & Metabolism Center, Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute
  • 540 publications

Jeffrey B. Blumberg, PhD

  • Professor, Freidman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and Director of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University
  • >300 publications

Walter C. Willet, MD, DrPH

  • Chair of the Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health
  • 1,422 publications

Thomas R. Friberg, MD, MS

  • Professor of Ophthamology and Director of the Medical & Surgical Retinal Division of the University of Pittsburg School of Medicine
  • Principle investigator for the AREDS and AREDS II clinical studies.
  • 134 publications

As you can see, these are not just your run of the mill scientists. They are the top experts in the field.

 

Are You Wasting Your Money On Multivitamins?

Are multivitamins a waste of money?   What did these experts say?

  1. They started by pointing out that few people in the United States follow the USDA dietary guidelines, and “consequently, most people in the United States even in cities like Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill are not well nourished”. Specifically:
  • 93% of U.S. adults don’t get enough vitamins D & E from their diet.
  • 71% of U.S. adults don’t get enough vitamin K from their diet.
  • 61% of U.S. adults don’t get enough magnesium from their diet.
  • 50% of U.S. adults don’t get enough calcium and vitamin A from their diet.
  1. They also pointed out that adequate intake of micronutrients is essential for normal body function and to support good health. Specifically:
  • Vitamins A, D, iron and zinc are required for normal immune function
  • Folic acid is required for neurological development. For example, “A multivitamin supplying folic acid dramatically decreases the risk of neural tube defects and is recommended for women of childbearing age.”
  • The AREDS and AREDS II studies have established the value of supplementation in preventing vision loss due to age-related macular degeneration.
  1. They pointed out that largest (15,000 male physicians) and longest (13 years) randomized, placebo controlled trial of a multivitamin (the Physician’s Health Study II) showed a:
  • 8% reduction in cancer incidence and a 12% reduction in cancer deaths
  • 9% reduction in cataract formation
  1. Finally, they pointed out that the claims that supplement use might actually increase mortality were overemphasized. Specifically:
  • The claims that high dose vitamin E increase mortality have been refuted by subsequent studies. I have discussed that in detail in my eBook, “The Myths of the Naysayers” (available for free to all subscribers of “Health Tips From the Professor”).
  • Only 1.1% of the U.S. population consumes more than the recommended upper limit for vitamin A (10,000 IU/day).
  • The only warning that actually holds up is that smokers should avoid high dose beta-carotene.
  • More importantly, all of those concerns involved high dose individual supplements. There is no evidence for any risk from taking a daily multivitamin.

In summary, the experts concluded: “Taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement not only helps fill known nutritional gaps in the diet of most persons in the United States (thereby ensuring normal body function and supporting good health), but may have the added benefit of helping to reduce the risk for chronic disease.”

 

The Bottom Line

1)     Are multivitamins are a waste of money?  No.  That was simply the opinion of one group of experts. Other experts have come to the exact opposite conclusion.

2)     Of course, it was only the negative opinion that made the headlines. Somehow the opinion that multivitamins are valuable for most Americans never got the attention of the press.

3)     According to the experts mentioned in this article, multivitamins play an important role in filling well documented nutrition gaps in the U.S. population, assuring normal body function and helping preserve good health. There is evidence that they may have a modest role in reducing the risk for chronic diseases, and there is no evidence that multivitamin supplements increase the risk of mortality.

4)     Of course, you shouldn’t expect miracles from your multivitamin. It’s not going to help you leap tall buildings in a single bound. Your multivitamin should just be one small part of your holistic health program of diet, exercise, weight control and supplementation.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

 

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Comments (7)

  • RUTH BIEBER

    |

    DR. CHANEY….LOVE YOUR INFORMATIVE EMAILS…..VERY HELPFUL.
    JUST READ THE LATEST ONE…”ARE YOU WASTING YOUR MONEY ON MULTIVITAMINS?”
    PLEASE LOOK AT THE SENTENCE THAT READS, “AS YOU CAN SEE, THESE ARE JUST YOUR RUN OF THE MILL SCIENTISTS”……..I BELIEVE IT SHOULD READ, ” THESE ARE NOT JUST YOUR RUN OF THE MILL SCIENTISTS”………

    Ruth Bieber

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Dear Ruth,

      You are absolutely correct. I did correct that sentence in this post, but it slipped past me in the email you received. Sorry.

      Dr. Chaney

      Reply

  • sharry zacharia

    |

    Like to know waht brand of Vitamins are good source.

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Dear Sharry,

      I personally use Shaklee vitamins because of their scientific integrity and quality controls. If you were forwarded my newsletter from a Shaklee representative, I recommend that you contact them for more information. If not, I will be happy to recommend soneone who will give you good service.

      Dr. Chaney

      Reply

  • chelia mcfowler

    |

    I am glad that this issue refuted the past statements about supplements. If they really look at it it is impossible to eat all the nutrients in a meal, that’s why it call a supplement. Thank you doctir.

    Reply

  • Celeste Edwards

    |

    Where can I find a copy of “The Myth of the Naysayers”, Part 1.
    Thank You
    PS I love your very informative emails.

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Dear Celeste,

      It will be coming late this year.

      Dr. Chaney

      Reply

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Latest Article

Is Our Microbiome Affected By Exercise?

Posted November 6, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Microbiome Mysteries

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

is our microbiome affected by exerciseIn a recent post,  What is Your Microbiome and Why is it Important,  of “Health Tips From The Professor” I outlined how our microbiome, especially the bacteria that reside in our intestine, influences our health. That influence can be either good or bad depending on which species of bacteria populate our gut. I also discussed how the species of bacteria that populate our gut are influenced by what we eat and, in turn, influence how the foods we eat are metabolized.

I shared that there is an association between obesity and the species of bacteria that inhabit our gut. At present, this is a “chicken and egg” conundrum. We don’t know whether obesity influences the species of bacteria that inhabit our gut, or whether certain species of gut bacteria cause us to become obese.

Previous studies have shown that there is also an association between exercise and the species of bacteria that inhabit our gut. In particular, exercise is associated with an increase in bacteria that metabolize fiber in our diets to short chain fatty acids such as butyrate. That is potentially important because butyrate is a primary food source for intestinal mucosal cells (the cells that line the intestine). Butyrate helps those cells maintain the integrity of the gut barrier (which helps prevent things like leaky gut syndrome). It also has an anti-inflammatory effect on the immune cells that reside in the gut.

However, associations don’t prove cause and effect. We don’t know whether the differences in gut bacteria were caused by differences in diet or leanness in populations who exercised regularly and those who did not. This is what the present study (JM Allen et al, Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, 50: 747-757, 2018 ) was designed to clarify.  Is our microbiome affected by exercise?

 

How Was The Study Designed?

is our microbiome affected by exercise studyThis study was performed at the University of Illinois. Thirty-two previously sedentary subjects (average age = 28) were recruited for the study. Twenty of them were women and 12 were men. Prior to starting the study, the participants filled out a 7-day dietary record. They were asked to follow the same diet throughout the 12-week study. In addition, a dietitian designed a 3-day food menu based on their 7-day recall for the participants to follow prior to each fecal collection to determine species of gut bacteria.

The study included a two-week baseline when their baseline gut bacteria population was measured, and participants were tested for fitness. This was followed by a 6-week exercise intervention consisting of three supervised 30 to 60-minute moderate to vigorous exercise sessions per week. The exercise was adapted to the participant’s initial fitness level, and both the intensity and duration of exercise increased over the 6-week exercise intervention. Following the exercise intervention, all participants were instructed to maintain their diet and refrain from exercise for another 6 weeks. This was referred to as the “washout period.”

VO2max (a measure of fitness) was determined at baseline and at the end of the exercise intervention. Stool samples for determination of gut bacteria and concentrations of short-chain fatty acids were taken at baseline, at the end of the exercise intervention, and again after the washout period.

In short, this study divided participants into lean and obese categories and held diet constant. The only variable was the exercise component.

 

Is Our Microbiome Affected By Exercise?

is our microbiome affected by exercise fitnessThe results of the study were as follows:

  • Fitness, as assessed by VO2max, increased for all the participants, and the increase in fitness was comparable for both lean and obese subjects.
  • Exercise induced a change in the population of gut bacteria, and the change was comparable in lean and obese subjects.
  • Exercise increased fecal concentrations of butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids in the lean subjects, but not in obese subjects.
  • The exercise-induced changes in gut bacteria and short-chain fatty acid production were largely reversed once exercise training ceased.

The authors concluded: “These findings suggest that exercise training induces compositional and functional changes in the human gut microbiota that are dependent on obesity status, independent of diet, and contingent on the sustainment of exercise.” [Note: To be clear, the exercise-induced changes in both gut bacteria and short-chain fatty acid production were independent of diet and contingent on the sustainment of exercise. However, only the production of short-chain fatty acids was dependent on obesity status.]

 

What Does This Study Mean For You?

is our microbiome affected by exercise gut bacteriaThere are two important take home lessons from this study.

  • With respect to our gut bacteria, I have consistently told you that microbiome research is an emerging science. This is a small study, so you should regard it as the beginning of our understanding of the effect of exercise on our microbiome rather than conclusive by itself. It is consistent with previous studies showing an association between exercise and a potentially beneficial shift in the population of gut bacteria.

The strength of the study is that it shows that exercise-induced changes in beneficial gut bacteria are probably independent of diet. However, it is the first study to look at the interaction between obesity, exercise and gut bacteria, so I would interpret those results with caution until they have been replicated in subsequent studies.

  • With respect to exercise, this may be yet another reason to add regular physical activity to your healthy lifestyle program. We already know that exercise is important for cardiovascular health. We also know that exercise increases lean muscle mass which increases metabolic rate and helps prevent obesity. There is also excellent evidence that exercise improves mood and helps prevent cognitive decline as we age.

Exercise is also associated with decreased risk of colon cancer and irritable bowel disease. This effect of exercise has not received much attention because the mechanism of this effect is unclear. This study shows that exercise increases the fecal concentrations of butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids. Perhaps, this provides the mechanism for the interaction between exercise and intestinal health.

 

The Bottom Line

A recent study has reported that:

  • Exercise induces a change in the population of gut bacteria, and the change was comparable in lean and obese subjects.
  • Exercise causes an increase in the number of gut bacteria that produce butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids that are beneficial for gut health.
  • These effects are independent of diet, but do not appear to be independent of obesity because they were seen in lean subjects but not in obese subjects.
  • The exercise-induced changes in gut bacteria and short-chain fatty acid production are largely reversed once exercise training ceases.

The authors concluded: “These findings suggest that exercise training induces compositional and functional changes in the human gut microbiota that are dependent on obesity status, independent on diet, and contingent on the sustainment of exercise.”

For more details and my interpretation of the data, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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