Sensationalist Headlines about Efficacy of Supplements Spin a Misleading Tale.
Multivitamins are all over the news with sensational headlines like “Multivitamin Researchers Say Case Is Closed, Supplements Don’t Boost Health.”
This was prompted from several studies that recently point to the inefficiency of preventing certain chronic disease with generic multivitamins. However, the headlines and editorials badly misrepresent the actual scientific conclusions.
Here is what has actually been shown in these trials:
1. A study following male physicians over age 65 showed no improvement in cognitive decline using generic multivitamin supplementation.
2. A study shows high dose multivitamins had no effect on the progression of heart disease in heart attack survivors.
3. A previously released study concludes: “Limited evidence supports any benefit from vitamin and mineral supplementation for the prevention of cancer or cardiovascular disease. Two trials found a small, borderline-significant benefit from multivitamin supplements on cancer in men only and no effect on cardiovascular disease.”
Armed with those studies, the Annals of Internal medicine released a strongly worded editorial claiming, “Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.”
Even taking the studies at face value, all that has actually been shown is that run of the mill, presumably synthetic multivitamins don’t prevent cognitive decline in men over 65, don’t prevent progression of heart disease in heart attack survivors, and have borderline significant benefit in preventing cancer.
To make the broad claim that multivitamins and mineral supplements are a waste of money “case closed” based upon that data is at the very least an astounding leap.
While the studies may have merit in showing that stemming the tide of these degenerative conditions with untargeted multivitamins alone is ineffective, there are several flaws in the conclusions:
A. Multivitamins are not all created equal and simply because one type doesn’t work for something, it doesn’t necessarily follow that another multivitamin wouldn’t be effective. For example I personally take a live source liquid multi B vitamin from a company called Premier Labs. I notice a dramatic difference in efficacy taking that vs a synthetic tableted B vitamin, even though the tableted vitamin has much higher quantities of each marker. B Vitamin intake for stress is one of the well documented benefits from supplementation (See 2, and 4 below via Pubmed).
B. There are several studies with generic multivitamins for important quality of life health markers that have shown statistically significant benefit.
1. Infectious Illness Prevention: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12614088
3. Cognition: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22711385
4. Work Stress: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21905094
5. Juvenile Delinquency: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10706231
The Easiest Way to Get Optimized
All of this said, allow me to clarify Onnit’s position on multivitamins. Namely that we have never been a champion of multivitamins, and as such there is nothing shocking about the results of these studies.
We don’t sell a multivitamin, we have never recommended any customers to take one, and there are potentially very good reasons for that. We certainly would never propose that generic multivitamins alone could prevent large degenerative conditions like heart disease progression or cognitive decline in the elderly.
Dr. Dan Engle MD, director of medicine at the Rejuvenation and Performance Institute lays out some of the limitations of multivitamins:
“There are varying studies on the absorption rates of vitamins and minerals, with many showing that the compressed pill form of vitamins have very poor absorption rates. Add this poor absorption rate to the use of synthetic ingredients, toxic binders, and excipients in most of the tableted supplements and what results is essentially expensive urine.
Let’s briefly take a closer look at absorption. The avenues of absorption of oral supplementation are via the mucous membranes of the digestive system that start in the mouth and travel all the way to the colon. Notably, digestion and absorption all start in the mouth. This is why swishing vitamins and minerals (like a powdered form in water or a smoothie) in your mouth for 15-20 seconds before swallowing (and chewing all your food super well) can significantly increase the absorption rate. As Ghandi said, “Chew your liquids and drink your solids,” in a process of thorough chewing also known as Fletcherization. This improvement in absorption is further made easy and available through the use of powder and liquid base supplements (versus compressed tablets), because there is more surface area available for the nutrients to access and gain entry into the body from start to finish, and less reliance on the body to breakdown a pill. From there, absorption is throughout the GI system, and when the body receives that which is closest to the natural form it was designed to process, it takes it in much more readily. This is maximized when nutrients are derived from nutrient-rich food. When the absorption rates soar, the cells uptake is increased and utilization improves substantially.”
It is a tenet of our philosophy that the human body was designed to take in and process food, utilizing those nutrients to achieve optimal health. The farther away from food that a supplement becomes, the more foreign it is to the body.
Are we surprised that the presumably synthetic multivitamins in these study categories failed to have an effect on advanced degenerative conditions? Not really.
It is Onnit’s belief that the body knows what to do with earth grown nutrients and will put them to good use.
In conclusion, while multivitamins aren’t the Onnit recommended way to get nutrients, far from the case being “closed” they still appear to be viable for mitigating many of the non-life threatening conditions that affect our day to day performance and happiness.
It seems that more and more you have to look past the headlines in these stories to get the kernels of truth. As a final word, I’ll leave you with a very telling abstract from the PubMed study on multivitamin supplementation for the prevention of juvenile delinquency:
Poor nutritional habits in children that lead to low concentrations of water-soluble vitamins in blood, impair brain function and subsequently cause violence and other serious antisocial behavior.
Correction of nutrient intake, either through a well-balanced diet or low-dose vitamin-mineral supplementation, corrects the low concentrations of vitamins in blood, improves brain function and subsequently lowers institutional violence and antisocial behavior by almost half.
This paper adds to the literature by enabling previous research to be generalized from older incarcerated subjects with a history of antisocial behavior to a normal population of younger children in an educational setting.