Are Multivitamins A Waste Of Money?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Supplements and Health

Don’t Throw Your Vitamins Away Yet

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

ProfessorThe Professor is annoyed. Two things really irritate me:

  • Charlatans who cherry pick studies to “prove” that their snake oil supplements will cure what ails you.
  • Doctors who proclaim that vitamins are a waste of money without understanding the science behind the studies they are quoting.

Are Multivitamins A Waste Of Money?

You’ve seen the headlines telling you that “the experts” have concluded that multivitamins are a waste of money. You might be wondering “What’s behind these headlines? Who are these experts, and what is their evidence?”

Let’s start at the beginning. 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 is an opinion piece, not a scientific study. It represents the opinion of five very prominent doctors, but it is, at the end of the day, just their opinion. Many other well respected experts disagree with their opinion.

They based their editorial on three recently published studies:

  • The first study reported that vitamin and mineral supplements did not decrease the risk of heart disease and cancer in healthy individuals (Fortmann et al., Annals of Internal Medicine, 159, doi: 10.7326/003-4815-159-12-201312170-00729)
  • The second study reported that multivitamins did not affect cognitive function in healthy male physicians aged 65 and older (Gradstein et al, Annals of Internal Medicine, 159, 806-814, 2013)
  • The third study concluded that multivitamins did not reduce the risk of a second heart attack in patients who had previously had a heart attack and were receiving appropriate medical therapy.

These were all large, well designed studies, so it would be tempting to conclude that the headlines were right. Maybe vitamins are a waste of money.

But, what if the whole underlying premise of these studies was flawed? Let’s examine that possibility by examining the flawed premises behind these and other studies.

What’s Wrong With These Studies?

#1) These studies were too narrowly focused.

MultivitaminsMultivitamins and individual vitamins and minerals are not magic bullets. They are not drugs. They are meant to fill nutritional gaps in our diet – not prevent or cure disease. We should be asking whether holistic approaches can prevent or cure disease – not whether individual nutrients can do so.

One of the examples that I love to use, because it really made an impression on me as a young scientist, occurred at an International Cancer Symposium I attended more than 30 years ago. I attended a session in which an internally renowned expert was giving his talk on colon cancer. He said, “I can show you, unequivocally, that colon cancer risk is significantly decreased by a lifestyle that includes a high-fiber diet, a low-fat diet, adequate calcium, adequate B-vitamins, exercise and weight control. But I can’t show you that any one of them, by themselves, is effective.”

The question that came to me as I heard him speak was: “What’s the message that a responsible scientist or responsible health professional should be giving to their patients or the people that they’re advising?” You’ve probably heard experts saying:

  • “Don’t worry about the fat content of your diet. It can’t be shown to increase the risk of colon cancer.”
  • “Don’t worry about calcium. It doesn’t decrease the risk of colon cancer”
  • “Don’t worry about B-vitamins. They don’t decrease the risk”
  • “Don’t worry about fiber. It can’t be shown to decrease the risk either”

But, is that the message that we should be giving people – that nothing matters? Shouldn’t we really be saying what that doctor said many years ago – that a lifestyle that includes all of those things significantly decreases the risk of colon cancer?

#2) These studies were destined to fail.

It’s almost impossible to prove that any single intervention prevents disease when you are starting with a healthy population (something we scientists refer to as a primary prevention study).

For example, in “Health Tips From the Professor” just a couple of weeks ago I shared with you that even when you combine all of the published studies with tens of thousands of patients, it is impossible to prove that stain drugs prevent heart attacks in healthy individuals.

If you can’t show that statins prevent heart disease in healthy people, why would you expect to be able to show that vitamins or minerals prevent heart attacks in healthy people?

I can’t resist pointing out that this perfectly illustrates the pro-drug, anti-supplement bias that is so prevalent among many of my medical colleagues. I haven’t seen a single editorial or headline suggesting that statin drugs might be a waste of money for healthy individuals.

#3) These studies simply asked the wrong questions.

For example, the third study described in the editorial was asking whether multivitamins reduced the risk of a second heart attack in patients who were receiving “appropriate medical therapy”. What does “appropriate medical therapy” mean, you might ask? It means that those patients were on 4 or 5 drugs, with all of their side effects.

In reality the study was not asking whether multivitamins reduced the risk of a second heart attack. The study asked whether multivitamins had any additional benefits for individuals who were taking 4 or 5 drugs to reduce their risk of a second heart attack. That’s a totally different question.

There are lots of examples of this paradigm. For example, 17 years ago the Cambridge Heart Antioxidant Study showed that vitamin E significant decreased heart attack risk in patients with severe cardiovascular disease (Stephens et al, The Lancet, 347: 781-786, 1996). Patients in that study were taking one or two medications. However, in today’s world that would be considered unethical. The standard medical treatment for high risk heart disease patients today is 4 or 5 drugs, and when patients are receiving that many medications it is no longer possible to demonstrate a benefit of vitamin E. The story is similar for omega-3 fatty acids.

That poses a dilemma. What recent studies show is that individual nutrients don’t reduce the risk of a second heart attack in someone who is receiving “standard of care” medical treatment.

But that’s not the question I am interested in. I’d like to know whether natural approaches might be just as effective as the drugs or whether natural approaches might allow one to use fewer drugs or lower doses. I’d like to avoid all of the side effects of those drugs if I could.

What about you? What questions would you like answered? Do these studies answer those questions?

What Was Overlooked In Those Studies

The studies did show conclusively that there were no harmful effects from supplementing except for high dose beta-carotene in smokers. Somehow that information never made it into the headlines.

The Bottom Line

  • Don’t pay much attention to the reports that supplements don’t work and are a waste of money. Those studies are fundamentally flawed.
  • Don’t pay much attention to the reports claiming that vitamins will hurt you. Except for beta-carotene in smokers the latest studies showed no evidence of harm.
  • On the other hand, don’t expect miracles from your vitamins. If you spend your time sitting in front of the TV set eating pizza & drinking sodas, popping a vitamin pill won’t prevent much of anything.
  • Finally, holistic approaches are often as effective as drug therapy – without the side effects. Your vitamins can be an important part of a holistic approach to better health that includes weight control, a good diet and exercise.

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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Latest Article

Yoga Pain Relief From Tight Muscles

Posted July 17, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Yoga Shouldn’t Cause You Pain

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT – The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney

yoga pain relief

Do you love to practice yoga?  Do you feel energized after stretching your muscles?  Or do you have yoga pain that prevents you from moving easily after your session is complete.  You probably would like to know how to achieve yoga pain relief from tight muscles.

Why Tight Muscles Cause Yoga Pain

A muscle originates on a bone, merges into a tendon, crosses over a joint, and inserts into another bone. When the muscle contracts it pulls on the tendon, and the joint moves.  However, if the muscle is strained either by repetitive use, or trauma, it becomes too short.  Now you will feel pain when you try to lengthen it to its normal length.  If you try to stretch it you’ll feel even worse pain, and you won’t be able to move properly.

yoga pain relief stretchHere is an analogy to help you better understand the concept. If you tied a rope between two trees and knotted the rope, the flexible tree would bend. If you then tried to force the flexible tree to stand up straight, the knots would get tighter. Also, the fibers outside of the knots would over-stretch.

This is what happens in your body when a muscle is shortened by spasms (knots).  And in your body, the two ends are attached to a bone. As a result, when you try to stretch the knotted muscles, they put a strain on your joint.  You feel pain, and you may have even injured your muscles.

It makes sense to untie the spasms before you stretch.  This would help prevent the need for yoga pain relief.

How To Prevent Yoga Pain By Releasing Muscle Spasms First

yoga pain relief bookFor over 15 years I have been helping people around the world via email and Zoom consultations.  A person orders a consultation, sends me an email explaining the problem, and I send back some treatment ideas. Along with the consultation they get a copy of Treat Yourself To Pain-Free Living  so they can do the treatments I suggest.

An amazing yoga instructor in Texas, named Ana, was having pain in her calf muscles. She was accustomed to yoga eliminating all pains, so she was frustrated that the pain didn’t disappear.  She found me by doing an internet search and decided to have a telephone consultation.

Ana sent an email to me describing her problem.  I told her to order the Treat Yourself To Pain-Free Living book and described the self-treatment for her calf pain.  We then made an appointment to talk in two weeks.

yoga pain relief calfThe treatment for the pain in her calf muscles is shown on the left. You lie on your back and put your calf over top of your opposite bent knee.  Press down and slowly move your leg up toward your head so your knee moves down your calf.  If you find a sore point, that’s a spasm. Hold your pressure on the point for about 30 seconds, then release the pressure for about 30 seconds.  Then repeat 1-2 more times.  It will hurt, but since it’s releasing the spasm, you’ll find it will hurt less each time you do it.

It took Ana just two days to resolve her calf issue and get yoga pain relief. By then, her book had arrived. Since she still had 12 days before we talked, she decided to use the information in the book and work on her hips.  She was shocked to find her hips actually had a lot of spasms.  She treated them as the book showed, and her yoga improved.  Then she took a look at her shoulders that were also “fine.”  Again, she was shocked to find they also had multiple spasms. She treated them as shown in the book, and again her yoga improved.  She was thrilled!

Yoga Pain Relief

yoga pain relief dvdWhen we finally spoke, Ana had made the decision that this was information that needed to come out to yoga instructors everywhere.  That was the beginning of Trigger Point Yoga.  Ana and I worked together to create a product to teach how to release tight muscles before stretching.

Ultimately the product name was changed to Focused Flexibility Training so athletes would also release muscles before stretching.

It’s important to release the spasms that tie your muscles into knots before you stretch.  Focused Flexibility Training shows you where to press, and how to best treat the knot.  And the yoga stretching DVDs are truly first-class.

 

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly

About The Author

julie donnelly

Julie Donnelly is a Deep Muscle Massage Therapist with 20 years of experience specializing in the treatment of chronic joint pain and sports injuries. She has worked extensively with elite athletes and patients who have been unsuccessful at finding relief through the more conventional therapies.

She has been widely published, both on – and off – line, in magazines, newsletters, and newspapers around the country. She is also often chosen to speak at national conventions, medical schools, and health facilities nationwide.

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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