TO SUPPLEMENT OR NOT? THE PROBLEM WITH MODERN RESEARCH.
We live in a fast paced, quick-fix society who relies on the media to provide us with solutions. The multivitamin industry uses this to their advantage and targets every day people into believing they can achieve good health and cures to common ailments through the use of their products. The research into the benefits of their use is inconclusive in many occasions, but is often demonstrated as false positives. Multivitamins may have their place in the recovery of some extreme illnesses and the prevention of others, but generally everything you need for a healthy, long life comes from Mother Earth. A diet rich in nutrient dense foods, along with a healthy gut, can help repair and rebuild the body to become the best possible portal for longevity.
Our jam-packed lives don’t allow time for simple pleasures like growing and preparing good food. If it doesn’t make us money or give us instant gratification then it mustn’t be worth doing! This generalisation may be just that, but the rise in multivitamin use indicates that society is after short cuts and quick fixes. The media play a huge part in our lives with celebrities and advertising setting trends in how we treat our bodies and what we believe is normal and acceptable. The highly profitable multivitamin industry is using celebrities and the lure of curing common ailments or claims of boosting energy to sell their products. We are often bombarded with advertising during major sporting events with the players endorsing certain supplements they use to keep on top of their game.
The public are easily convinced that there are health benefits in taking supplements to improve general well being, prevent disease and overall longevity. There are a number of clinical trials setting out to demonstrate improved health whilst taking supplements with inconclusive results or no demonstrated health benefits (2) (3) (4) (6). Some studies that do show small improvements admit that many other studies have shown no improvement. Some also state that most supplement users adapt a healthy lifestyle, including adequate nutrition, exercise and are most likely to be well educated (1) (6). These healthy behaviours have been recognised as creating unmeasurable variations in the results (6). Pocobelli et al state, “Other findings were small in magnitude and should be interpreted cautiously because healthy behaviors tend to be more common in supplement users than in nonusers.” (6). It is also evident that positive results from trials may also be documented when they are funded by the health company that produces the supplement. A trial involving two types of Berocca supplements, funded by Bayer who produce Berocca, have shown positive results. It is unknown how many company-funded trials have resulted in negative outcomes as that research would most certainly not be released.
There is no doubt research has demonstrated supplementation can prevent disease particularly in the case of folate preventing neural tube defects. For this reason folic acid is added to bread here in Australia as law (12). Other conditions or diseases that result in decreased appetite and malnourishment have been studied with positive results. One such trial was on the effectiveness of nutritional supplement use during the treatment of malnourished HIV patients (7). These are extreme examples and not necessarily applicable to the discussion of everyday use of multivitamins for common heart, joint or immune health.
To maintain wellness or improve health, supplementation may seem like the best option. Considering the food as medicine concept, all the vitamins and minerals we need are found in fresh fruit and vegetables and products made directly from them. The healing benefits of bone broth are well described by Dr Mercola including how it can heal the gut, allowing the immune system to work at its optimum and possibly cure many ailments (9). Fermented vegetables also have enhanced micronutrients and beneficial bacteria that also help create a healthy gut environment essential for overall well being (11). Both of these natural foods allow us to absorb the nutrients we need for good health. There are many naturally occurring foods that are concentrated in one or more essential nutrients. An increase in consumption of these types of foods and the omission of highly processed and low-nutrient dense food can lead to better results than the use of supplements. Interestingly, for example, pasteured pork fat is high in vitamin D (10)!
Researchers have failed to show strong evidence that multivitamin use has long-term benefits in disease prevention and overall well-being. Most people who are likely to take supplements already lead considerably healthy lifestyles. It would therefore be more likely that they would consider adapting their diets if they knew it was as easy as including the gut beneficial foods mentioned. If this type of diet was supported and promoted by the leading authorities in health, it would be accepted as being the answer to long, disease free lives. But that would put many people out of a job!
(1) Dickinson and MacKay Nutrition Journal 2014, 13:14
“Health habits and other characteristics of dietary supplement users: a review”
(2) J Nutr. 2015 Mar;145(3):572-8. doi: 10.3945/jn.114.204743. Epub 2015 Jan 7.
“Multivitamin-mineral use is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease mortality among women in the United States.”
(3) Blood. 2007 Jan 1;109(1):139-44. Epub 2006 Sep 7.
“Homocysteine lowering by B vitamins and the secondary prevention of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism: A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial.”
(4) Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Jul;102(1):49-57. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.103028. Epub 2015 May 27.
“Supplementation with a blend of krill and salmon oil is associated with increased metabolic risk in overweight men.”
(5) Br J Cancer. 2014 Jan 7; 110(1): 249–255.
Published online 2013 Nov 12. doi: 10.1038/bjc.2013.664
“Long-term use of multivitamins and risk of colorectal adenoma in women”
(6) Am J Epidemiol. 2009 Aug 15; 170(4): 472–483.
Published online 2009 Jul 13. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwp167
“Use of Supplements of Multivitamins, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E in Relation to Mortality”
(7) J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2015 Apr 1; 68(4): 405–412.
Published online 2015 Feb 25. doi:
“Effects on Anthropometry and Appetite of Vitamins and Minerals Given in Lipid Nutritional Supplements for Malnourished HIV-Infected Adults Referred for Antiretroviral Therapy: Results From the NUSTART Randomized Controlled Trial”
Andrea M. Rehman, PhD,* Susannah Woodd, MSc,* George PrayGod, MD, PhD,† Molly Chisenga, MSc,‡ Joshua Siame, CO,‡ John R. Koethe, MD,§ Douglas C. Heimburger, MD, MS,§ Paul Kelly, MD,‖ Henrik Friis, PhD,¶ and Suzanne Filteau, PhD*
(8) Nutrients. 2013 Sep; 5(9): 3589–3604.
Published online 2013 Sep 13. doi:
“Acute Effects of Different Multivitamin Mineral Preparations with and without Guaraná on Mood, Cognitive Performance and Functional Brain Activation”