In life and diets: nothing is perfect

By Judy Blatman, Senior Vice President, Communications, Council for Responsible Nutrition

- Last updated on GMT

If only we lived in a perfect world, where all we have to do is get our nutrients from food...
If only we lived in a perfect world, where all we have to do is get our nutrients from food...

Related tags: Nutrition

If only I lived in a perfect world, like, say, Dr. Edgar Miller, one of the five doctors who have determined from on high via their editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine, that no one needs to take a multivitamin.

Or any supplements for that matter.  A world where all we have to do is get our nutrients from food.  A world where these doctors would have definitive answers for how to prevent cancer and heart attacks. Which, by the way, they don’t, so I’m not sure why they’re spending so much time worrying about who is taking his or her multivitamin and who’s not.  I’d rather they let us know what to do, versus what not to do.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about saving money, which they tell me I can do if I stop taking my vitamins.  The fact is, I wish I could get back all the money I spent on a drug to lower my cholesterol which, after about five years of being on it, my doctor rushed me off it, following a big study that came out with warnings about the dangers of the drug’s side effects.  Which, by the way, I could have sworn had been approved by FDA—the drug, not the side effects.  (But don’t get me started on pre-market approval, ‘cuz that’s a whole other blog.)

I’m curious as to why these doctors are so hell-bent on getting people off their vitamins.  There’s no research that shows that people are taking vitamins, then taking a deep breath, lying back on their couches, chugging potato chips and washing them down with beers while they shoot the evil eye in the direction of their dusty treadmills covered with the week’s dirty clothes. 

In fact, just the opposite.  CRN has research that shows year after year people who take supplements are more likely than those who don’t to also engage in other smart choices like trying to eat a healthy diet and exercising.  Oh, and like visiting their doctors regularly.

Blatman_Khouri photog small
Judy Blatman, CRN

Why then the concern by the Annals of Internal Medicine? It’s like the publication packaged an early Christmas gift—three studies, an editorial, and patient advisory pages—wrapped in “we hate the vitamin industry” press release paper—when if you ask me, the whole issue should have been wrapped with stinky fish and old newspapers. I’m not sure why, but here’s what I do know.

I’d like to live in a world where researchers looked for positive news; that there wasn’t such delight in slamming doors and bolting up windows.  OK, so a high dose multivitamin won’t prevent a second cardiovascular event—who really expected that it would?

CRN’s consumer research finds that the top two reasons that people take their vitamins are for overall health and wellness and to fill nutrient gaps.  We asked our survey population if they took supplements to prevent serious illness, and while it was mentioned, it was down the list.  Most likely, it’s one of those things that you say, “hey, maybe that can help a little”, but it’s doubtful that many people actually believe that you can pay what you’d pay for a multivitamin and, voila!—prevent cancer. The fact that there actually was some benefit in the Physicians’ Health Study for cancer prevention, is what I’d call a holiday bonus. And yet, nary a mention of that from our friends at the Annals.

Why did the press make such a big deal about this story?  Because it’s a respected journal, and the authors are respected authors, and because it’s controversial.  So it makes news.

But here’s what’s been missed in a lot of the coverage.   Staying healthy is a good way to avoid cancer.  Your diet plays a big role in staying healthy.  Getting the nutrients you need is necessary to a good diet.  If you can’t get all of those nutrients from food, multivitamins can help fill the gap.

Thankfully, many reporters also included quotes from doctors and academics who know that the vitamins still have value.  And many reporters, like AP and Reuters, and CBS-TV and HealthDay Syndicate, looked to CRN for an industry perspective.  As my CRN colleague Dr. Duffy MacKay was quoted in USA Today, "While those in the ivory tower may say that people just need to eat their sardines and salads, in the real world there are nutrient gaps."

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4 comments

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Follow the Money

Posted by James,

Any good detective would ask the question be who paid for this study? Who stands to gain from taking vitamins away from the general public. Who stands to make money from declining health in the general population? There should be a section in each study that tells us who provided the funding for these types of studies.

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Why I need vitamins

Posted by Anna Jacobs,

I have a compromised immune/digestive system, am over 70 and on a weight loss diet. I can only eat healthily because of food intolerances yet I can't possibly get all my vitamins/nutrients from food. When I started taking the supplements prescribed by my doctor (who specialises in orthomolecular medicine) my health improved enormously. Good old vitamins, say I! I'd like to gift my health problems and age to those tunnel-visioned researchers and see whether they took vitamins.

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Absolutely outstanding response!

Posted by Marie Moneysmith,

Thank you for pointing out the flaws in this study. I used to think Annals of Internal Medicine was a pretty good journal, but am now reconsidering.

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