By Brock McGregor, Special to The Chatham Voice
New Years resolutions regularly involve health promoting lifestyle changes, and many individuals look to natural health products in the hopes of improving health.
Over the last year, a number of articles have circulated popular media arguing that vitamin supplements are ineffective at preventing or treating cancer, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive decline. Are vitamins really just giving us expensive urine? Are you flushing your money down the toilet?
The short answer is “no.”
The scientific article that started the vitamin-bashing craze was an editorial written in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluding that in well-nourished individuals supplementing with vitamins and minerals is unnecessary and possibly harmful. This editorial focused on three past studies evaluating the usefulness of multivitamins in cancer, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive decline.
As Dr. Alan Gaby, an expert in nutritional medicine points out, the studies discussed used low-potency multivitamins, and actually did find benefit in reducing cardiovascular disease by 11% in men and women, and cancer by 7% in men. Based on sample size, both of these outcomes were not considered significant statistically so the editorial concluded that all vitamins must be useless. In the case of cognitive decline, the study cited by the editorial showed no benefit when using a low-potency multivitamin, but two additional studies showed significant benefit when higher doses were used – again not reported in the editorial.
Despite the poorly drawn conclusions and exclusion of interesting data, perhaps the most obvious and inexcusable error in the vitamins-are-useless debacle is the over-generalized view of vitamin supplements and their intended benefit. Of course there is no one-size-fits-all approach to supplementation. There is no magic pill. It is unrealistic to think that three studies investigating the use of low potency vitamins on serious illnesses like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive decline would be definitive.
Ignoring the growing body of evidence for specific vitamin and mineral intervention in conditions such as depression, migraines, arthritis, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease is irresponsible and dishonest. There are a number of studies showing significant benefits for accurate prescribing of vitamins and minerals for specific health concerns.
Of course not every vitamin or mineral supplement or nutraceutical product is effective, and just like any arm of health research, it is important to separate the useful and useless. In the case of supplementation, an informed consumer is an empowered consumer – so question what you read and be informed!
• About the Author: Brock McGregor BSc ND is a Naturopathic Doctor practicing in Chatham. Have a question about natural health? E-mail email@example.com and your question may appear in a future column.