More Studies to Add to the Confusion About Vitamins


More studies to add to vitamins confusion.An editorial was recently published in the medical journal,  Annals of Internal Medicine, which stated there are no benefits to taking vitamins and that they are a waste of money. Over the past decade an increased number of Americans have started taking supplemental vitamins in order to improve their health. It is averaged that more than $30 million is spent on vitamins per year. There have been a plethora of studies, articles, and commentaries both for and against the use of vitamins.

Vitamin supplementation has a century long history. Vitamins are essential to our health.  We obtain vitamins either by taking them or eating them. Our ancestors obtained their vitamins by consuming them from the plants and game they hunted and gathered. Advances in agriculture have led to nutrient poor foodstuff which, in turn, leads to increases in vitamin related illnesses.

There have always been those who are skeptical about the benefits of vitamin supplementation.  So much so that there is an overabundance of studies which claim to have proof of the harmful effects of vitamins. These studies appear in the news; almost on a daily basis.  However, in addition to these studies are others which endorse vitamin supplementation and list the many benefits. The contradictions in these reports are numerous, causing a lot of confusion among consumers.

The editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine was accompanied by two studies. The objective of the first was to determine if long-term supplementation affects cognitive function later in life. Approximately 6000 physicians, over the age of 65, received a daily multivitamin over the period of a decade; while their counterparts received a placebo (imitation pill). The findings of the study showed no difference in cognitive change over time between those receiving the multivitamins and those receiving the placebo. This was the first long-term clinical trial to study multivitamin use and its effect on cognitive decline in the elderly.

The other study focused on heart attack patients, aged 50 and above, who took high dosages of vitamins in order to prevent further cardiovascular issues. The study showed that the vitamins were not effective in protecting the patients. However, there was a high dropout rate involved in the study; making any conclusions drawn about it flawed.

Among the many articles concerning vitamins is an article published by the Harvard School of Public Health which attempted to help with the sorting out of all the contradicting studies about vitamins. The article points out the importance of knowing what dosage of vitamin the study participants took and how long they took it for, as well as knowing who the participants were and how healthy their lifestyles were.  In the conclusion of the cognitive decline study it has been admitted that a limitation in the study was that the doses of vitamins may have been too low for the well-nourished and healthy physicians involved.

There are some who believe that because of the opposing beliefs about vitamins further research is warranted.  However, for the authors of the Annals of Internal Medicine editorial, “The case is closed.” According to Dr. Cynthia Mulrow, “We don’t need a lot more evidence to put this to bed.”

Despite the confident manner in which the authors of Annals of Internal Medicine voiced their verdict, possibly believing that it would be the final say, there still remains much confusion concerning the benefits of vitamins. There are still many opinions in the mix and perhaps not enough research.

By Earnestine Jones

Annals of Internal Medicine
Harvard School of Public Health
NY Times

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