The Great Vitamin Debate


I’m smart enough to know that this article was intended to make the point that food is a better source of essential vitamins and minerals than supplements. But I guess they assume that I am too dumb to realize that all vitamin and mineral supplements have been lumped into the word “multivitamin,” and subsequently villified in order to substantiate this claim. 

I just googled the phrase “efficacy of vitamin supplementation” and the VERY FIRST result was an article published on the Johns Hopkins website titled “Is there really any benefit to multivitamins?” The article interviews the esteemed Dr. Larry Appel M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Welch Center For Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research. Wow sounds pretty legit right? I’m excited, let’s dig in!

The article opens with the line “A recent look at multivitamins by Johns Hopkins researchers shows that there’s no proof of benefit, but there is evidence of possible harm from high doses of certain vitamin supplements. Find out the one supplement deemed beneficial—and how others failed.” 

This is already fun. So friends….are we talking about multivitamins or are we talking about individual supplements? If you look closely, the opening line talks about both right? There’s a pretty important distinction there. A multivitamin jams a bunch of different vitamins into one pill and an individual vitamin supplement contains just that one vitamin. Wonder if the article will ever even acknowledge that distinction exists. I wonder if it will bring up the point that even so-called “high potency” multivitamins don’t have enough of any one ingredient to be effective.

 *SPOILER ALERT. It doesn’t. 

The thesis of this hack job is that people spend tons of money on multivitamins when really they should just be spending that money on food that can provide you all of the vitamins and minerals you need. “Johns Hopkins nutrition experts say [money] might be better spent on nutrient-packed foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products.“ Thanks so much for that lovely pearl mr. and mrs. nutrition experts at John Hopkins. But what happens when people aren’t perfect robots that eat the perfect foods every day of their perfect lives? 

I digress.

The article goes on to say:

“In an editorial in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine titled “Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements,” Johns Hopkins researchers reviewed evidence about supplements, including three very recent (debatable) studies:

An analysis of research involving 450,000 people, which found that multivitamins did not reduce risk for heart disease or cancer. A study that tracked the mental functioning and multivitamin use of 5,947 men for 12 years found that multivitamins did not reduce risk for mental declines such as memory loss or slowed-down thinking. A study of 1,708 heart attack survivors who took a high-dose multivitamin or placebo for up to 55 months. Rates of later heart attacks, heart surgeries and deaths were similar in the two groups.

Wow. Strange that they are quoting this amazing editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine but don’t provide a link to it. (I will though) Must be because they know that people don’t really care to fact check anything if its coming from such a legit and credible source. No way they could be taking something out of context or using a study that was created to test one hypothesis, to erroneously try to make a point about something completely different. 

(I hope by now you can tell how sarcastic I am)

All three of these bullet points reference this phantom “multivitamin.” Don’t you wonder which multivitamin they are talking about? There are literally thousands. Ohhhh they are talking about that one HIGH-DOSE multivitamin…..


Because I am so generous, I took the time to look at the 2013 editorial (that was cited as pulling research from 3 “very recent” studies) they have referenced so that you don’t have to. Let’s just say it would take me another eloquently written article to unpack this beaut. So let’s just leave that alone for now because I’ve already made my point about confusing multivitamin supplementation and vitamin supplementation and making no effort at all to provide the name of the specific multivitamin this “research” was based on. 

I have a few more things to point out about this article. Bear with me. At the end of my rant you will get a prize (no you wont). Let’s get to the exciting conclusion of the article irresponsibly titled “The Vitamin Verdict” because clickbait. 

The first paragraph says:

“The researchers concluded that multivitamins don’t reduce the risk for heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline (such as memory loss and slowed-down thinking) or an early death.” Cool, so again, which multivitamin doesn’t reduce the risk of any of these horrible things? I would like to avoid that one. But I will still probably try to find out what I am deficient in so that I can try to eat more foods that contain those vitamins or minerals AND supplement them with a high quality single ingredient supplement that I can easily find hundreds of studies proving its efficacy. 

It gets EVEN MORE funny when the article lists the famed Dr. Appel’s diet in a special box next to it. Ok got it Dr. Appel. Thank you for that window into what a healthy man should consume in order to reduce the risk of adverse health events. 

“Low-fat dairy and whole grains. “Low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt provide calcium, magnesium, potassium and other nutrients,” he says. “I have cereal with milk for breakfast a few times a week. And I have yogurt sometimes too.”

(LOL. I picture Dr. Appel as angry old Grandpa Simpson yelling at the clouds and talking about the good ol days when he used to walk uphill both ways to school with no shoes)

But Dr. Appel, what if I am lactose intolerant and what if I also know enough about the food industry to know that processed foods and dairy products filled with antibiotics and hormones might be bad for me for a LOT of different reasons. Should I still follow your awesome diet so that I can get my calcium, magnesium, potassium and other ingredients? 

*Rolls Eyes. 

It’s really quite simple to prove the efficacy of a vitamin supplement by taking someone whose bloodwork says they are deficient in that vitamin and giving them the proper amount in supplement form for, let’s say 30 days, and then doing their bloodwork again and seeing that serum level rise. 

This entire article, published by Johns Hopkins no less, provides a perfect example of taking facts out of context and bending them to fit a narrative or prove a point. This is a problem in all of media today but you would think that medicine would be immune (see what i did there) to this trend. How could a researcher that creates a meta-analysis of the use of a multivitamin to combat heart disease know that someone is going to use her or his research in a way it wasn’t intended to prove a completely unrelated point? 

Hey Johns Hopkins researchers, I know I don’t eat enough fish so i’m gonna use a shortcut and take a high quality EPA-DHA supplement that delivers 1,000mg of Omega-3 Fatty Acids, EPA and DHA. 

I bet I can prove it works. 😉

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