What will really keep the doctor away?
by Bradley T. Wajda, D.O.
Sensationalism sells. This was recently demonstrated by CBS News, which received a lot of attention when it reported multivitamins offer no health benefits and are no better than placebo pills.
Is the claim true? Let’s take a closer look.
First, let’s examine three studies published in an issue of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine last December. In the first study, researchers randomly assigned almost 6,000 male physicians over the age of 65 to take either a daily over-the-counter multivitamin or a look-alike placebo pill. After 12 years, there was no difference in memory between the two groups. However, the risk of cancer was reduced by 8 percent and the risk of cataracts dropped 9 percent compared to a placebo.
In the second study, researchers randomly assigned 1,700 heart attack survivors to a daily regimen of high doses of vitamins and minerals or placebo pills. After an average of 55 months, there was no significant difference between the two groups in a composite measure that counted the number of deaths, second heart attacks, strokes, episodes of serious chest pain and procedures to open blocked arteries. However, nearly half of the participants dropped out before the end of the study.
The third study, a research review, assessed the evidence from 27 studies on vitamin and mineral supplements that included more than 450,000 people. That study, conducted for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, found no evidence that supplements offer a benefit for heart disease or that they delay death from any cause. They found only a minimal benefit for cancer risk.
These are compelling studies, but let’s add the missing facts.
The most glaring issue is pharmaceutical grade versus food grade supplements. Most researchers use individually sampled and verified pharmaceutical grade vitamins. These studies do not ensure that pharmaceutical grade supplements were used.
There are 3 FDA grades:
• Pharmaceutical Grade – meets pharmaceutical standards
• Food Grade – meets standards set for human consumption
• Feed Grade – meets standards set for animal consumption
Obviously, only the first two categories relate to this discussion. To be considered a “Pharmaceutical Grade” product, the supplement has to be manufactured to strict guidelines that require all the ingredients exceed 99 percent purity.
In contrast, “Food Grade” supplements can have upwards of 30 percent impurities, fillers and binders in them. Furthermore, the purity only needs to exceed 10 percent.
Food Grade supplements do not have to list the fillers and binders. They may use lower quality ingredients and can be heat processed (destroying the product), irradiated or coated with a pharmaceutical food glaze. Up to 88 different chemicals can be added to the products to kill contaminants, and these chemicals don’t have to be listed on the label.
ConsumerLab.com tests hundreds of vitamins each year and finds that 30 percent of multivitamins have a quality problem. Manufacturers can voluntarily submit a product for review with the United States Pharmacopeia (www.usp.org
) and National Sanitary Foundation (NSF) International (www.nsf.org
) to assure the quality of the item.
In the end, it is up to the consumers to do their due diligence in determining the quality of the supplements they take.
You can always call the company and ask. Some companies voluntarily manufacture under an FDA pharmaceutical manufacturing license. But this says nothing about the health benefits or claims made about a supplement. It only means that the product is held to a pharmaceutical standard.
So let’s put all this into perspective. To begin, we will look back to the study of male physicians at the beginning of this article. The study was only the latest installment of an ongoing study. Earlier installments revealed a 40 percent decrease in the risk of dying from a heart attack.
In addition, there are several studies that say multivitamins make a difference. Two studies from the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology at Swinburne University in Victoria Australia reveal that 16 weeks of using a multivitamin reduces stress and fatigue while eight weeks of taking a multivitamin improved depression, anxiety, stress, alertness and daily function.
Other studies have found:
• A study of a group of almost 8,000 women with invasive breast cancer found those who took a multivitamin regularly had a 30 percent lower mortality rate than those who did not.
• A French study of 13,000 adults revealed that men taking multivitamins daily for 7.5 years had a 31 percent lower cancer rate and a 37 percent lower overall death rate. The researchers discovered that the benefits of preventing cancer and mortality were lost after subjects stopped taking the daily supplement.
• An 11-year study of 24,000 Europeans found that multivitamin users had a 48 percent lower risk of developing cancer and a 42 percent lower risk of dying from any cause.
• A study of individuals with terminal small cell lung cancer found that those taking supplements lived longer than those who did not, with a 37 percent reduction in death rate
So, clearly, according to some studies, there are benefits to supplements.
It ain’t the apple a day that will help keep the doctor away. It is the pharmaceutical grade multivitamin a day.