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

Do Omega-3s Lower Blood Pressure in Young, Healthy Adults?

Posted August 14, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

What Is The Omega-3 Index And Why Is It Important?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

Do omega-3s lower blood pressure in healthy adults?

omega-3s lower blood pressure young adultsThe literature on the potential health benefits of omega-3s is very confusing. That’s because a lot of bad studies have been published. Many of them never determined the omega-3 status of their subjects prior to omega-3 supplementation. Others relied on dietary recalls of fish consumption, which can be inaccurate.

Fortunately, a much more accurate measure of omega-3 status has been developed and validated in recent years. It’s called the Omega-3 Index. Simply put, the Omega-3 Index is the percentage of EPA and DHA compared to 26 other fatty acids found in cellular membranes. Using modern technology, it can be determined from a single finger prick blood sample. It is a very accurate reflection of omega-3 intake relative to other fats in the diet over the past few months. More importantly, it is a measure of the omega-3 content of your cell membranes, which is a direct measure of your omega-3 nutritional status.

A recent extension of the Framingham Heart Study reported that participants with an Omega-3 Index >6.8% had a 39% lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those with an Omega-3 Index <4.2% (WS Harris et al, Journal of Clinical Lipidology, 12: 718-724, 2018 ). Although more work needs to be done, an Omega-3 Index of 4% or less is generally considered indicative of high cardiovascular risk, while 8% or better is considered indicative of low cardiovascular risk. For reference, the average American has an Omega-3 Index in the 4-5% range. In Japan, where fish consumption is much higher and cardiovascular risk much lower, the Omega-3 Index is in the 9-11% range.

Previous studies have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids lower blood pressure to a modest extent. Thus, it is not surprising that more recent studies have shown an inverse correlation between Omega-3 Index and blood pressure. However, those studies have been done with older populations, many of whom had already developed high blood pressure.

From a public health point of view, it is much more interesting to investigate whether it might be possible to prevent high blood pressure in older adults by optimizing omega-3 intake in a young, healthy population, most of whom had not yet developed high blood pressure. Unfortunately, there were no studies looking at that population. The current study was designed to fill that gap.

 

How Was The Study Done?

omega-3s lower blood pressure young healthy adultsThe current study (M.G. Filipovic et al, Journal of Hypertension, 36: 1548-1554, 2018 ) was based on data collected from 2036 healthy adults, aged 25-41, from Liechtenstein. They were participants in the GAPP (Genetic and Phenotypic Determinants of Blood Pressure) study. Participants were excluded from the study if they had been diagnosed with high blood pressure and were taking medication to lower their blood pressure. They were also excluded if they had heart disease, chronic kidney disease, other severe illnesses, obesity, sleep apnea, or daily use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications.

Blood samples were collected at the time of their enrollment in the study and frozen for subsequent determination of Omega-3 Index. Blood pressure was also measured at their time of enrollment in two different ways. The first was a standard blood pressure measurement in a doctor’s office.

For the second measurement they were given a wearable blood pressure monitor that recorded their blood pressure over 24 hours every 15 minutes during the day and every 30 minutes while they were sleeping. This is considered more accurate than a resting blood pressure measurement in a doctor’s office because it records the variation in blood pressure, while you are sleeping, while you are exercising, and while you go about your everyday activities.

 

Do Omega-3s Lower Blood Pressure In Young, Healthy Adults?

omega-3s lower blood pressure young adults equipmentNone of the participants in the study had significantly elevated blood pressure. The mean systolic and diastolic office blood pressures were 120±13 and 78±9 respectively. The average Omega-3 Index in this population was 4.6%, which is similar to the average Omega-3 Index in the United States.

When they compared the group with the highest Omega-3 Index (average = 5.8%) with the group with the lowest Omega-3 Index (average = 4.6%):

  • The office measurement of systolic and diastolic blood pressure was decreased by 3.3% and 2.6% respectively
  • While those numbers appear small, the differences were highly significant.
  • The 24-hour blood pressure measurements showed a similar decrease.
  • Blood pressure measurements decreased linearly with increasing Omega-3 Index. [In studies of this kind, a linear dose-response is considered an internal validation of the differences observed between the group with the highest Omega-3 Index and the group with the lowest Omega-3 Index.]

The authors concluded: “A higher Omega-3 Index is associated with statistically significant, clinically relevant, lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure in normotensive, young and healthy individuals. Diets rich omega-3 fatty acids may be a strategy for primary prevention of hypertension.”

 

What Does This Mean For You?

omega-3s lower blood pressure young adults questionPerhaps I should first comment on the significance of the relatively small decrease in blood pressure observed in this study.

  • These were young adults, all of whom had normal or near normal blood pressure.
  • The difference in Omega-3 Index was rather small (5.8% to 4.6%). None of the participants in the study were at the 8% or above that is considered optimal.
  • Liechtenstein is a small country located between Switzerland and Spain. Fish consumption is low and omega-3 supplement consumption is rare.

Under these conditions, even a small, but statistically significant, decrease in blood pressure is remarkable.

We should think of this study as the start of the investigation of the relationship between omega-3 status and blood pressure. Its weakness is that it only shows an association between high Omega-3 Index and low blood pressure. It does not prove cause and effect.

Its strength is that it is consistent with many other studies showing omega-3 fatty acids lower blood pressure. Furthermore, it suggests that the effect of omega-3s on blood pressure may also be seen in young, healthy adults who have not yet developed high blood pressure.

Finally, the authors suggested that a diet rich in omega-3s might reduce the incidence of high blood pressure by slowing the age-related increase in blood pressure that most Americans experience. This idea is logical, but speculative at present.

However, the GAPP study is designed to provide the answer to that question. It is a long-term study with follow-up examinations scheduled every 3-5 years. It will be interesting to see whether the author’s prediction holds true, and a higher Omega-3 Index is associated with a slower increase in blood pressure as the participants age.

 

Why Is The Omega-3 Index Important?

 

The authors of this study said: “The Omega-3 Index is very robust to short-term intake of omega-3 fatty acids and reliably reflects an individual’s long-term omega-3 status and tissue omega-3 content. Therefore, the Omega-3 Index has the potential to become a cardiovascular risk factor as much as the HbA1c is for people with diabetes…” That is a bit of an overstatement. HbA1c is a measure of disease progression for diabetes because it is a direct measure of blood sugar control.

In contrast, Omega-3 Index is merely a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. However, if it is further validated by future studies, it is likely to be as important for predicting cardiovascular risk as are cholesterol levels and markers of inflammation.

However, to me the most important role of Omega-3 Index is in the design of future clinical studies. If anyone really wants to determine whether omega-3 supplementation reduces cardiovascular risk, high blood pressure, diabetes or any other health outcome they should:

  • Start with a population group with an Omega-3 Index in the deficient (4-5%) range.
  • Supplement with omega-3 fatty acids in a double blind, placebo-controlled manner.
  • Show that supplementation brought participants up to an optimal Omega-3 Index of 8% or greater.
  • Look at health outcomes such as heart attacks, cardiovascular deaths, hypertension, stroke, or depression.
  • Continue the study long enough for the beneficial effects of omega-3 supplementation to be measurable. For cardiovascular outcomes the American Heart Association has stated that at least two years are required to obtain meaningful results.

These are the kind of experiments that will be required to give definitive, reproducible results and resolve the confusion about the health effects of omega-3 fatty acids.

 

The Bottom Line

 

An accurate measure of omega-3 status has been developed and validated in recent years. It’s called the Omega-3 Index. Simply put, the Omega-3 Index is the percentage of EPA and DHA compared to 26 other fatty acids found in cellular membranes.

Although more work needs to be done, an Omega-3 Index of 4% or less is generally considered indicative of high cardiovascular risk while 8% or better is considered indicative of low cardiovascular risk.

Previous studies have shown an inverse correlation between Omega-3 Index and blood pressure. However, these studies have been done with older populations, many of whom had already developed high blood pressure.

From a public health point of view, it is much more interesting to investigate whether it might be possible to prevent high blood pressure in older adults by optimizing omega-3 intake in a young, healthy population, most of whom had not yet developed high blood pressure. Until now, there have been no studies looking at that population.

The study described in this article was designed to fill that gap. The participants in this study were ages 25-41, were healthy, and none of them had elevated blood pressure.

When the group with the highest Omega-3 Index (average = 5.8%) was compared with the group with the lowest Omega-3 Index (average = 4.6%):

  • Both systolic and diastolic blood pressure were decreased
  • Blood pressure measurements decreased linearly with increasing Omega-3 Index.

The authors concluded: “A higher Omega-3 Index is associated with statistically significant, clinically relevant, lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure in normotensive, young and healthy individuals. Diets rich omega-3 fatty acids may be a strategy for primary prevention of hypertension.”

Let me translate that last sentence into plain English for you. The authors were saying that optimizing omega-3 intake in young adults may slow the age-related increase in blood pressure and reduce the risk of them developing high blood pressure as they age. This may begin to answer the question “Do omega-3s lower blood pressure in young, healthy adults?”

Or even more simply put: Aging is inevitable. Becoming unhealthy is not.

For more details, 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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