The Great Vitamin Smear Job of 2013

You may have seen the news story last December on how multivitamins aren’t wonder drugs that cure cancer, reverse aging and make you sing “Kumbaya” during episodes of road rage. OK, so maybe that’s not exactly how the story was reported, but it may as well have been.

At issue are the mainstream media reports on an editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine called, “Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.” The opinion piece reads like a bad grad-school paper that begins with a conclusion, then struggles to find any available evidence to support it. What’s left is a classic example of an over-the-top hit job that could actually cause people to engage in less preventive-health action than more.

The authors of the editorial cite a trio of studies, one a metadata analysis (cherry-picked research open to interpretation), and two new studies that have little relevance to the role vitamins and minerals are intended to play in the lives of everyday people.

One study gave multivitamins to men over 65 years old who had suffered a heart attack to see if the supplements would heal their cardiovascular system and stop them from having heart attack No. 2. This, of course, is asking nutritional supplements to do the impossible: cure serious disease. No vitamin manufacturers make that claim, and if they did, they would be violating clearly established regulations. The kicker? According to CNN: “…with more than 50% of patients stopping their medications, it was difficult for authors to come to any real conclusions about the vitamins’ effectiveness.”

Seriously. This is what they call “evidence.”

An Unhealthy Population

The other new study looked at men 65 and older who were judged on cognitive health over a period of 12 years. All of the subjects in the study were physicians—not exactly a representative sample of the U.S. population. Doctors occupy a rare strata of society in affluence and access to health-care protocols, and if they’re actively practicing, they would likely engage in behaviors that reinforce cognitive abilities on a routine basis.

The unrepresentative subject samples and unrealistic standards of these studies were reason enough to question the editorial’s strident tone that this was the last word on the subject. Not addressed were the hundreds of studies indicating effectiveness of vitamins and minerals in helping prevent a number of health conditions that result from poor nutrition. The contributions of thousands of scientists and decades of research were simply ignored by the authors.

Such details, nuance and context have no room in a press release or news report, and the mainstream media went to town. The controversial opinions of the “Enough Is Enough” editorial were aired with very few news outlets questioning its conclusions. If you want an example of the good that dietary supplements can do, go to our “News & Research” column for a truly comprehensive research project.

We have a health-care crisis, an obesity crisis, and a fast-food addiction in this country that leave most Americans falling far below the nutritional standards considered for optimal health. Dietary supplements help address this shortfall—period. To argue the opposite is counterproductive to the health goals we are all working hard to satisfy.

Enough is enough, indeed.

Jim Schmaltz

Editor in Chief