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Will my multivitamin help me live longer? - (8/14/2018)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro 

The pharmacist was reading a new study that claimed multivitamins are ineffective at reducing the risk of disease, and may even cause harm. The pharmacist rolled his eyes. Multivitamins are getting to be like coffee consumption. One year a study comes out that claims coffee will shorten your life. The next year another study asserts that coffee will extend your life. What is the consumer supposed to believe?  

This latest review of over 18 clinical trials, involving 2 million people followed for an average of 12 years, found that multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin C showed no benefits in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, or premature death. That’s disappointing, thought the pharmacist. For many busy pharmacists, meals are eaten on the fly. Instead of a salad, a bag of chips may be lunch. Instead of a healthy glass of V8®, a sugary soda may be the chosen beverage. The pharmacist hopes that a daily multivitamin will prevent him from collapsing face down on his counting tray. Is this an unfounded hope? 
There are 2 types of people who take multivitamins (MV). There are those who eat healthy foods, eschew most red meat, never eat sugar, and exercise regularly. These people probably do not need to take a vitamin supplement. Then, there are those people who, like the pharmacist hope that despite their poor eating habits, an MV will fill all the gaps in their otherwise empty diet. There’s a third group who think Twinkies® are one of the 4 main food groups. They should start pricing coffins now. 

Multivitamins are truly a concoction of Madison Avenue. Starting with One-A-Day® vitamins in 1940, the vitamin industry is a multi-gazillion dollar endeavor. Couple this with the obesity epidemic and the preponderance of fast, possibly carcinogenic, probably artery-clogging foods, and people buy into the hype that all it takes is a vitamin supplement to remain healthy. Even the “once daily” notion is a myth. B and C vitamins stay in the body for 3 or 4 hours before they are peed out of your system. Check your urine a few hours after you take your vitamin. If it is bright yellow, there go your B vitamins right down the toilet. So, what is covering you for the other 20-plus hours? There is a reason why we eat 3 meals a day – we need constant refueling. The same goes for vitamins which, incidentally, are plentiful in food too.  

A vitamin supplement is not the panacea that their manufacturers would have you believe. MVs cannot take the place of eating a variety of healthy foods. People who are on low-calorie diets, have a poor appetite, or avoid certain foods – such as vegans and vegetarians do – might consider an MV. But, beware: Too much of a good thing can be bad. In 2011, a major study which involved 35,000 men ages 50-plus showed that those men who took vitamin E (400 units) and selenium (200 micrograms) per day had a 17% increase in prostate cancer than those who took placebos. Vitamin A and D toxicity may occur after taking excessive amounts of those vitamins for a long time. In severe cases, liver damage can occur. Very high doses of vitamin D (50,000 units) are sometimes used to treat medical problems such as vitamin D deficiency, but these are given only under the care of a doctor for a specified timeframe. Use of beta-carotene has been associated with an increased risk of lung cancer in people who smoke or who have been exposed to asbestos. One study of 29,000 male smokers found an 18% increase in lung cancer in the group receiving 20 mg of beta-carotene a day for 5 to 8 years. This is not to say that people need to fear taking MVs. If taken at the correct dosage, MVs can fill the void in your diet. But, as the pharmacist agreed, there is no substitute for good food. Next time, take your MV with a fruit or veggie. 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.com. Read more at www.rx-press.com  


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