An editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine last month suggested that multivitamins and supplements are a “waste of money.” The editorial bases its opinion on the results from three recent studies on the effects of these supplements.
The editorial was quickly picked up by national news organizations with headlines varying from “Studies say multivitamins don’t prevent disease” to “Research shows multivitamins provide some benefits.” Practitioners from the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing regularly recommend supplements to their patients and wanted to weigh in on the issue.
Two practitioners offered their opinions:
Bell questioned whether the original editorial really reflected the studies. Each study report cautioned against broad conclusions, while the editorial ended by stating the case was closed and that multivitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention.
Bell says: “I believe it is the summary of the editorial that generated the media buzz. This final sentence is a reflection of an important issue – the frustration of the medical community with the multi-billion dollar dietary supplement industry. The large majority of supplements are poorly manufactured with the primary intent of generating revenue. This irresponsible behavior undermines the dedicated work of professionals researching and developing good quality supplements.”
She added, “The various articles ignore that there is a respected group of professionals in Integrative Medicine who apply the large database of evidence demonstrating the efficacy of many natural supplements and vitamins. Most Integrative Medicine specialists would agree that the best way to obtain nutrients is from diet, but sometimes multivitamins or supplements are necessary or helpful.”
Jennifer Blair, LAc, MaOM, is an integrative, holistic provider with clinical specialties in acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, dietary therapy and integrative health coaching. She is a licensed acupuncturist with a master’s degree in Oriental Medicine.
Blair agrees with Bell that the presence of poor quality supplements in the marketplace degrades a valuable asset to the health and well-being of patients. “Appropriate nutritional supplementation, individualized to a patient’s unique needs and provided by companies who focus on quality, safety, efficacy and optimal absorption can benefit health and address nutritional deficiencies that contribute to diseased states and inhibit the body’s natural regenerative abilities. We miss the whole picture when we allow media sound bites to guide our beliefs and decisions.”
Additionally, Blair points out that multiple factors contribute to sub-optimal nutrition that may lead to the need for quality supplements. These may include some industrialized agriculture practices, poor soil quality and over-processed foods. “Combine these factors with inhibited digestive function due to inflammation or an imbalance of intestinal flora, and it can be difficult to absorb the proper nutrition from food alone,” she said.