Mother Nature vs. multivitamins - The Buffalo News

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Mother Nature vs. multivitamins

If you’ve been following my recent columns, you’ll remember I reviewed how the scourge of heart disease could be stemmed by eating a more Mediterranean diet and exercising more every day.

Last week, I highlighted the importance statins play, while pointing out that every drug that lowers cholesterol but is not a statin is a dud when it comes to preventing heart disease death.

I didn’t have time to go into the other risk factors that play an important role – such as family history, smoking, obesity and diabetes – because this was just a summary of important new science research. I can tell from some of the comments I’ve received that I’ve offended some people. But science is messy, and controversy is its fuel.

So on to the next controversy: vitamins and supplements.

We have two camps in America today – those who believe vitamins and supplements should be taken every day and those who do not. An industrial-produced pill, capsule or liquid is not the same as Mother Nature’s panacea of good, wholesome food.

Several major articles in the prestigious Annals of Internal Medicine show that, for the most part, vitamins and supplements have been an empty promise. Full disclosure: I’ve been swallowing a multivitamin for decades.

Researchers reviewed well-controlled studies on vitamin and mineral supplements, looking at their role in preventing ill health in more than 400,000 people who were followed for years. Long story short – nada.

They reviewed studies that followed more than 6,000 older adults to see if these “magic pills” prevented cognitive decline. Again – nada.

Multivitamins, high doses of B, E and C, antioxidants, folic acid and omega 3 fatty acids all failed. And studies of megadoses of A and beta carotene showed they decreased life expectancy.

The editorial that accompanied this superior research said, and I quote, “Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided.”

So what do the folks in the $28 billion a year vitamin and supplement industry say? As you would expect, they say the jury is out.

My opinion is that the jury is in and the verdict is clear: No gain.

My spin: Over and over again, we try to trump Mother Nature and she always, always comes out on top when it comes to this. Vitamins do prevent diseases such as rickets, scurvy, beriberi and pellagra. Folic acid does prevent birth defects if it’s taken early in a pregnancy.

But when it comes to preventing heart disease, stroke and memory dysfunction, the data is there. The case has been decided: A healthier diet trumps pills.

Dr. Zorba Paster is a physician, university professor, author and broadcast journalist. He also hosts a radio program at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7; email questions to him at

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