Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin Supplements

“Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements” is the title of an editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine that address three different studies released in the same issue about the role of vitamin and mineral supplements in preventing chronic diseases. The abstract:

In this issue, 3 articles address vitamin and mineral supplements for prevention of chronic diseases. [...] They conclude that most mineral and vitamin supplements have no clear benefit, might even be harmful in well-nourished adults, and should not be used for chronic disease prevention.

Specifically, beta-carotene, vitamin E, and possibly high does of vitamin A were found to “increase mortality” (not good). The three articles and the editorial were found via the NPR article “The Case Against Multivitamins Grows Stronger“.

One review found no benefit in preventing early death, heart disease or cancer. Another found that taking multivitamins did nothing to stave off cognitive decline with aging. A third found that high-dose multivitamins didn’t help people who had had one heart attack avoid another.

Steven Salzberg, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins says that “The vast majority of people taking multivitamins and other supplemental vitamins don’t need them. I don’t need them, so I stopped.”

I don’t think multivitamins are going away, and physicians are still recommending them for certain groups like expecting mothers. But perhaps Sheldon Cooper was right and most of us are just buying the ingredients for “very expensive urine“.

Comments

  1. Wow! Are those for real? If those are true, then I might as well stop wasting money buying vitamin supplements.

  2. What is this idea of taking multivitamins to *prevent* disease? Multivitamins are meant to pick up the slack, to correct mild deficiencies that may be present because of incomplete diet, depleted soil, and over-engineered crops. Maybe the next study they do will come to the conclusion that taking multivitamins also doesn’t prevent people from losing money in the stock market.

  3. I just read a similar article…just eat a balanced diet and there really is no need to constantly take multivitamins. Although it also said that expectant moms needed supplements as they are often low on folic acid and vitamin D.

  4. Nutrition Action (a great newsletter on nutrition and health) just published today a different viewpoint: http://www.nutritionaction.com/daily/vitamin-supplements/cheap-insurance/

    • Jonathan Ping says:

      I just wanted to point out the following comment on that post by “Jane” that points out the issues with that quoted study.

      I wonder why would Nutrition Action quote a 13 year old study of multi-vitimins, sponsored by an un-named California supplement company of only 80 people, suggesting we take a multi-vitamin every day. This might be a good idea, but there is, at present, lots of controversy around this issue and many more recent studies.

  5. I just take Vitamin D and Fish Oil. Vitamin D due to deficiency, Fish Oil due to its alleged benefits which may still not be quite true.

  6. Dang, just bought a bottle two days ago and now I read this, lol!

  7. Just blindly taking or stopping supplements because of reading an article is stupid. Only a doctor can tell you whether or not you are deficient in something, and I think these articles have the potential to do a lot of harm to some deficient people. The article should have emphasized the need to consult a doctor with blood work before making decisions on the need for vitamins.
    I am deficient in Vitamin D and zinc, and if I hadn’t run blood work with a doctor I wouldn’t be taking those supplements. Although I can understand the argument against taking those super high doses because “more is better” is not true.

  8. I thought most of us take multivitamins to strengthen our immune systems… for example, so that our bodies are better equipped to combat the common cold or flu virus. Whether or not it’s effective for those purposes also remains to be determined, but I know I don’t take my Vitamin C tablets to fight “chronic illness.” Is this article irrelevant to me, then?

  9. Are you seriously quoting a fictional character as one of your own sources? “Sheldon Cooper” is neither a doctor nor an authority on the subject. He’s an actor.

    • @Doug, You might be trolling, but he was pretty clearly using a pop culture reference as a joke to cap off his post, not using it as a source.

      I find this stuff interesting as I definitely spend a fair amount on ‘supplements’ these days – mainly a greens powder that I actually just consider part of my normal diet as I use it to make up for the fact that I probably don’t eat enough raw vegetables. You really *can’t* comfortably eat as much as a lot of studies would recommend.

      I guess I find it weird that there doesn’t seem to be any debate about whether eating more greens and other vegetables is good for you, but somehow the distilled vitamins and minerals from those foods aren’t. I guess I feel better about just having the ground up version, rather than the multi-vitamin pills.

  10. Hey Jonathan, check out http://examine.com/ – it’s an independent organization that compiles and sifts through scientific research on supplements to determine their potential usefulness. Not that I’m into making expensive pee, but I still find it interesting.

    BTW, your new site design is very nice and clean, and your daughter is flippin’ adorable!

    • That’s us!

      We agree that multivitamins are mostly useless – see our FAQ posting here: http://examine.com/faq/do-i-need-a-multivitamin.html

      But – we believe that targeted supplementation is quite helpful. This includes superloading Vitamin D/K, berberine for helping with blood sugar, peppermint oil for IBS, inositol for PCOS, and a lot more. There is no panacea, but intelligent supplementation makes a lot of sense.

  11. Without extensive medical testing, I suppose it’s a nearly-superstitious habit now for me, but I love taking an Emergen-C packet each morning to get my daily (over)dose of vitamins. I hardly ever get sick, and I’m pretty sure it’s not because of my (un)healthy diet, (non-existent) exercise regime, nor my (lack of) sleep habits. So I’m inclined to give the vitamin supplements at least a little bit of credit for keeping me functioning. =]

    P.S. At first I thought I came to the wrong site. Nice redesign!

  12. Hah! Oddly enough I hit up my doctors today for a physical (pretty proud of myself for going – first time in 10 years! ;)), and the topic of vitamins came up. He asked if I were taking them – and I said I just started last month – and then pretty much said “it’s up to me” if I want to keep taking them as there’s no conclusive evidence they truly help you that much. And since I’m young (early 30s) I’m probably fine without. Wonder if he recently read about this study too :)

  13. Here is a rebuttal from Dr. Michael Murray ND, a naturopathic doctor who has written extensively on vitamins and supplements.

    http://doctormurray.com/wow-editorial-in-medical-journal-promotes-propaganda-against-multiple-vitamin-formulas/

  14. Study shows a 30% lower rate of breast cancer mortality with supplement use: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10549-013-2712-x

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