Yet Another Study Says Vitamin Supplements Are Worthless

By Cody Cottier | May 31, 2018 12:14 pm
(Credit: Thunderstock/Shutterstock)

(Credit: Thunderstock/Shutterstock)

Vitamin the first four letters come from the Latin word for “life.” To sustain that, we need these organic compounds in small amounts, but it seems their purpose ends there.

New research reaffirms the counterintuitive notion that vitamin and mineral supplements aren’t the magical panacea we’ve been led to believe. It’s something that researchers have been finding for years, and a meta-analysis, summarizing the findings of 179 individual studies, published on Monday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that most common vitamins provide precisely zero benefit to those taking them.

Non-vital Vitamins

Specifically, the study concluded that multivitamins, as well as calcium, and vitamins C and D are essentially powerless. They do no harm, but they might as well be placebos. These findings run contrary to popular wisdom, which instructs us to load up on supplements to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and premature death.

This isn’t the first time science has refuted vitamin worship. In 2013 a series of studies in the Annals of Internal Medicine, collectively including hundreds of thousands of participants, concurred that vitamins do not lead to any boost in health. In fact, the studies found that beta-carotene, vitamin E and possibly high doses of vitamin A actually slightly increase mortality.

The only supplement that may live up to its reputation, according to the new study, is folic acid. This, with or without vitamin B, may prevent cardiovascular disease and stroke.

The tradition of using vitamins and minerals for nutrient deficiencies dates back to 1747, when the British naval surgeon James Lind treated scurvy with citrus fruit, rich in vitamin C. Physicians routinely make such prescriptions, though usually only in cases where the patient has a demonstrated deficiency of a particular vitamin or nutrient. 

Supplement Crazy

In recent years, though, we’ve come to view supplements as the gateway to general health and longevity. A Gallup poll in 2013 showed that 50 percent of Americans regularly take vitamins or multivitamins.

On the flip side, a comparison of Gallup polls in 1975 and 2016 reveals plunging public trust in the mainstream American medical system. This phenomenon may have contributed to the ascent of “natural” vitamin and mineral supplements.

But it probably also stems from rampant marketing and advertising. Thanks to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, manufacturers don’t have to prove the to the Food and Drug Administration that their supplements work. They can claim their products work, though, as long as they keep it vague (“strengthens the body”) and don’t profess to truly treat anything.

Call it a healthcare failure, call it a marketing miracle. Either way, call a doctor before you pop another vitamin. Odds are they’ll tell you to stick to fruits and veggies.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
MORE ABOUT: nutrition
  • OWilson

    Plunging trust in the medical system, could also stem from the fact the a family doctor can have all members of a family dependent on his own prescriptions for years, and other drugs to deal with side effects.

    Over prescribed drugs are a major problem in America. They are ones telling folks they have an iron, vitamin C, Vitamin D, magnesium, folic acid and this that and the other deficiencies, so they are partly to blame.

    All people, diets, lifestyles, and living locations are different. Some people seriously lack sunshine and access to good nutritious food, so one size does not fit all. Shut-ins need vitamin D, and smokers need vitamin C.

    Maybe the medical industry is not so innocent when it comes to marketing their own “cure -alls”., including opioids!

  • Artemis

    The Meta-analysis only looks at the effects the A mentioned vitamins have on CVD cardio vascular disease. To say that vitamins are basically a placebo is a vast overstatement and is unsubstantiated. There are other diseases that are not covered by this particular meta-analysis. On top of that, there are other processes in the human body that utilize vitamins.

    • Felicia L. Jones

      Thank you, well said! Funny how easy it is to spin the truth through omission of details. Shame on you Discover Magazine, I would have expected better from you.

      • Frank

        Big pharma can win anyone over with there deep pockets!

    • Frank

      Agreed.. Well put!

    • Uncle Al

      FDA minimum daily requirements were done in rats to protect 50% against deficiency disease. Recommended daily requirements are two sigma above that, leaving some 10% of an average (whatever that means) population deficient.

      Modest supplementation of water-soluble vitamins is not unreasonable. Recommended people daily Vitamin C intake is significantly less than that in wild-feeding Great Apes.

      Fat-soluble vitamins are poorly excreted. Caution is advised. “feeding swine high supplemental vitamin E levels prior to slaughter increased the shelf-life and delayed rancidity development and discoloration, thus preventing off-odors and off-flavors of pork”

      … One line, remove parens

      • Luke101

        “Take that! , you swine”

    • Jenny H

      On the other hand, vitamin/mineral supplements can increase fitness and help those with cardio-vascular disease adopt a healthier life-style,

    • Yamado

      Seems you need to learn to read. “and then performed meta-analyses on cardiovascular disease outcomes and all-cause mortality”. Not just cardio, but all causes of death. Some people just can’t let go of the nonsense they’ve been bombarded with since they came out of the womb. Suckers.

  • 4everYung

    Sometimes vitamin use CAUSES and PREVENTS cancers and cardiovascular disease. The vitamin levels need to be in the normal, healthy range. Levels that are too high or too low cause problems….and these effects cancel each other out…and yield no results in the meta-analysis.

  • Nachismo 101 B

    Why do the Drs themseves, prescribe iron, vitamin D, and also suggest to take folic acid and B vitamins, those are all vitamins, minerals and supplements, vitamins and minerals are important, and some people because of their diet don’t get enough vitamins and minerals,

    • Brian Thorn

      As the article indicates, physicians prescribe them when the patient shows a deficiency in them.

  • Robert

    Sounds like a drug commercial to me. Some of us have seen the difference. Western medicine is drug management and not health care.
    It’s about quality of life.

  • Derek Coverly

    They can say what they want. Nobody can deny what they have done in my life. I was in a wheelchair and on about 20 different medications due to many health issues. My wife is a Pharmacist and knew the meds I was taking we’re destroying my health instead of truly helping. She researched a natural supplement company and I began taking their products. Wishing 90 days I was out of my chair and off all medications. August 14th will be 4 years since I began taking the products. Without them, I dare say I may have not made it to see my 40th birthday.

  • Frank

    It’s a seriously flawed study. Most likely deliberately done because these flaws had long been pointed out in prior flawed anti-supplement studies. More obvious reason to think it has been intentionally created as a flawed study (which is easy to do with a meta-analysis as this study is) is that the study authors have big vested interests tied to allopathic corporate medicine, a crooked business cartel that makes primarily big money with disease management, using drugs, etc.

    So…. this is mostly the same old propaganda against supplements (disguised as objective straightforward facts) that has been spread among the unwitting public at regular intervals. Propaganda works best if repeated frequently, it’s a prime feature of the advertising business.

    Many of the erroneous twisted accusations and claims against dietary supplements have been quite thoroughly refuted by the real facts (as a good starting point, read the scholarly article “2 Big Lies: No Vitamin Benefits & Supplements Are Very Dangerous” by Rolf Hefti, a published author of the Orthomolecular Medicine News organization, where you will discover the many criminal tricks and shenanigans of the corrupt medical establishment to discredit the use of dietary supplements.

    Gaining a good understanding of this nonsense and politics behind the continuous anti-supplement “studies” and news is worthwhile as not to become a victim of the propaganda disseminated by the immoral anti-supplement zealots.

    Sadly, Cottier, the author of this here (and discovermagazine,naturally) adds to the anti-supplement propaganda by stating “Yet Another Study Says Vitamin Supplements Are Worthless” when the factual statement is “Yet Another JUNK Study BY CORPORATE MEDICINE Says Vitamin Supplements Are Worthless”…

  • ECarpenter

    So, the only disease humans ever have is Cardio Vascular Disease? Because this meta-analysis only looked at CVD research. And none of the studies in the meta-analysis had problems with their methodology? No dosage problems? Vitamin studies are notorious for testing small doses of vitamins and declaring they have no effects. Or studying the effects of a vitamin on one disease (often a small dose), finding no effect on that one disease, and concluding that the vitamin has no health benefits at all.

    This is the kind of bad journalism you’d expect from a home-town newspaper, or HuffPo – not Discover.

  • John Thompson

    My understanding is that there is no benefit of taking a supplement if you already have enough of the vitamins and minerals through diet.
    But if you are short on vitamins and minerals with your diet, then the supplements can have a beneficial effect.
    So lacking any real harms, I would (and do) take a multi-vitamin supplement just in case.

  • G B

    I’m not understanding whether the advice is to only not seek vitamin and mineral supplements, or to categorically not seek vitamins and minerals. I don’t see how it could be the latter, given that adverse outcomes of deficiencies in various vitamins and minerals have been observed; I don’t know how anyone could claim a person need never take in calcium, for instance. The concluding advice is to stick to fruits and veggies, which might indicate that this article’s author thinks it is important to get some amount of vitamins and minerals. Does the meta-analysis endorse any recommendations, such as DRIs?

  • Chris Terry

    Vitamin D levels can be accuratly measured. If too low a supplimet can fix it. Low vitamin D can cause serious harm. Same with vitamin C. So, I call BS on this. Some are must have for many people.

  • Jenny H

    No sorry. Wrong conclusion. The study says “These findings run contrary to popular wisdom, which instructs us to load up on supplements to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and premature death.”
    But deficiency diseases are cured by vitamin/mineral supplements. depression responds to magnesium and VitaminB complex. Scurvy respond to vitamin C. Iron deficiency anaemia responds to Iron and filic acid. And another veru serious and life threatening anaemis responds to vitamin B12.

  • Jenny H

    it WOULD be nice if Discover got some educated people back onto their team instead of relying on journalists.

  • Jenny H

    I consulted my Doctor. He said NOTHING about fruit and veggies. He DID suggest I lose weight :-( On the other hand he DID miss my DH’s serious anaemia from B12 deficiency

  • Mary Lockman

    Sounds like the reporter only barely skimmed the original research before typing up this news brief.

  • Melanie Arvelin-King

    This title is very misleading. Vitamins have been proven time and again to aid those with deficiencies. It is also well known that people need to use the fat soluble vitamins with caution. That being said many of the studies looked at do not duplicate the studies where benefits have been shown. It’s very interesting how science can be manipulated.


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