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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Questioning Medical Recommendations on Drugs vs Multivitamin Supplements

By Michael McBurney

Application of the new statin therapy guidelines for the prevention of cardiovascular disease is estimated to add 12.8 million people needing prescriptions, increasing the total number of people using statins to 56 million. Eighty percent (10.4 million) would be adults without cardiovascular disease. Why is there a medical agenda to use drugs to manage cardiovascular health in a non-diseased population? Nutrition should be the first choice in preventive health. In the “Smart Prevention – Health Care Cost Savings Resulting from the Targeted Use of Dietary Supplements”,  Frost & Sullivan reported significant health care cost savings can be achieved by increasing consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, three B vitamins (folic acid, B6, and B12), and dietary fiber.

Better nutrition could decrease total health care expenditures. How much does a statin prescription cost monthly? Certainly more than the median costs of $0.25 daily ($92.15 annually) to consume a protective daily intake of omega-3 supplements (Frost & Sullivan, page 23).

Why do medical journals and physicians feel the need to publish negative editorials on the use of nutritional supplements? Why does the media ignore positive studies on the benefits of nutritional supplements? Why do scientists who publish studies showing a significant, persistent reduction in progression of age-related eye disease with dietary supplements chose to denounce the use of multivitamin and mineral supplements? Why not encourage people to take steps to improve their nutrition?

With ~314 million people in the US, the reality is that nutrient deficiencies exist. ~33 million are vitamin B6 deficient.  9.5% of females (12-49y) are iron deficient. ~25 million are vitamin D deficient. And the list of people with nutrient deficiencies goes on (see CDC’s Second National Report on Biochemical Indicators of Diet and Nutrition in the US Population, 2012). And these are the people at risk of classical nutrient deficiency diseases. The numbers become much larger when one considers people not consuming recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals who are at great risk of suboptimal nutrient status.

For example, most people would benefit from consuming more eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), long-chain polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and fish oils. However, the consumption of oily fish is sporadic. New research shows that continuous ingestion, vs sporadic, will push EPA and DHA levels in blood cells more but both are effective. The point is, dietary supplementation works. Increasing nutrient intake improves nutritional status.

Hippocrates established guiding principles for medicine, including practice medicine honestly and do no harm. Excessive intakes of vitamins and minerals can be harmful. Research finds very few people regularly over-supplement. However, for tens of millions of Americans, and more globally, health is jeopardized because of suboptimal nutrient levels. The first step in disease prevention should be helping people address nutrient shortfalls. To dismiss the value of nutritional supplements as a way to fill nutrient gaps, especially while advocating pharmaceutical solutions, isn’t right.

Main Citations

Pencina MJ, Navar-Boggan AM, D’Agostino Sr RB, Williams K, Neely B, Sniderman AD, Petersen ED. Application of new cholesterol guidelines to a population-based sample. 2014 NEJM doi:10.1056/NEJM011315665

Browning LM, Walker CG, Mander AP, West AL, Gambell J, Madden J, Calder PC, Jebb SA. Compared with daily, weekly n-3 PUFA intake affects the incorporation of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid into platelets and mononuclear cells in humans. 2014 J Nutr doi: 10.3945/jn.113.186346

Other Citations

Guallar E, Stranges S, Mulrow C, Appel LJ, Miller III ER. Enough is enough: Stop wasting money on vitamin and mineral supplements. 2013 Ann Intern Med doi:10.7326/0003-4819-159-12-201312170-00011

Koo E, Change JR, Agron E, Clemons TE, Sperduto RD, Ferris III FL, Chew EY, and the Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group. Ten-year incidence rates of age-related cataract in the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS): AREDS Report No 33. 2013 Opthal Epidem doi: 10.3109/09286586.2012.759598

Chew EY. Vitamins and minerals, for eyes only? 2013 JAMA Opthalmol doi:10.1001/jamaopthalmol.2014.643