Friday, January 4, 2008

Vitamin supplements don't work?

Lately, several stories have been published where the effect of supplements have been debunked, among them various vitamins and minerals etc. I'm not going to bother pointing out specific studies, but rather link to this story in Dagbladet to show a general trend.

Alrighty then - here's a relevant link to a better source, which is even in English.

The stereotypical study goes something like this: Two test populations are given one multivitamin/mineral (or a specific vitamin like beta-caroten) supplement a day - one being fed the actual supplement while the other is fed a placebo. In the better studies, both populations take the supplements over a number of years. Sometimes, the individuals comprise John Q. Public, other times, senior citizens are targeted. The end result is typically that no significant effect either way is achieved for the test population compared to the placebo group, and we get some story featuring a smug GP or at best MD in a white lab coat, wielding a squash racket in one hand and the key to his new Mercedes in the other (right Anders?), stating that dietary supplements don't work. Said douchebag will then proceed to state something along the lines of "One should get the necessary vitamins and minerals from a balanced diet". Holy obvious, Batman. But is the science good and are the conclusions valid?

Absolutely not.

First of all, they're called supplements for a reason, i.e. you're not supposed to rely on them for your basic needs. They're meant to - wait for it - SUPPLEMENT a balanced diet. That's why they're called supplements. If you eat crap - like most people quite frankly do - then popping a multivitamin and mineral a day isn't gonna cut it. So that's the first thing you have to take care of - your overall diet. If your diet mainly consists of frozen pizzas and Mr. Lee's noodles, odds are you're screwing your system over big time, and that your immune system is crap. Also, odds are overwhelmingly in favor of you being a student, but that's another story.

Second, you shouldn't supplement specifically unless you know what your status is. Get your bloodwork done and see if there are any deficiencies. Low on Calcium and Magnesium? Address that specifically, don't just buy some damn supplement 'cause it says on the label it's good fo' yo' health. If your problem is that your Potassium levels are too high, then don't try to remedy that by taking a multivitamin. A little bit of common sense is good for what ails ya.

Third, dosages are typically too damn low anyway. And there's a reason for that; the RDA doesn't take body mass into account, because the RDA is meant to be a simple guideline and safe for the 48 kilo woman as well as for the 120 kilo competitive bodybuilder (yeah yeah; the competitive bodybuilder has more things in his or her system than vitamins, but the principle still holds). If there was no RDA and subsequent dosage recommendations, people would apply the linear logic that "If 50 mg is good for me, then 500 mg must be ten times as good for me", and that probably pushes you over in harmful territory. because while some vitamins etc. are water-soluble, others are fat-soluble, meaning that they will not be flushed out in your urine but accumulated until they reach toxic levels, and that will suck. Consequently, educate yourself, and make good and damned sure that when you buy supplements, the total amount of fat-soluble constituents don't significantly exceed the RDA. Again, a little bit of common sense will get you far. Linear logic might land you in the emergency room or worse.

Let me ask you this: Do you think changing the brand of motor oil or gasoline is going to matter on your ca. 1990 Hyundai Elantra which hasn't had a service in five years and has 500 000 Km on the clock? What about on a formula one car?


Anders said...

Regardless of science, here is my take on vitamin supplements:
Basically, the best thing is to get the vitamin needs covered by a normal diet. And the people who are very concerned about their diet, are the ones that will spend money on vitamin supplements. But odds are, since they actually has put some thought and planning into what they eat, that they have a pretty decent diet. So, as you say, if they need any, they should know what they need to supplement on, not just randomly take a multivitamin or whatever.
On the other hand, people with crap diet that doesn't care what they eat, do need vitamins, minerals etc. But the lack of vitamins would be your least concern when you're going on the "frozen pizzas and Mr. Lee's noodles" diet, because any positiv effect of getting your daily dose of vitamins and minerals are overwhelmed by the negative effect of a bad diet.

In short: The easiest (and best) route is to make an effort to have a pretty good diet. You need vitamins and minerals, not doubt about it, but in the western world, the energy dense diet is a bigger problem.

On the other hand, the good ol' Dag Viljen Poleszynski which I've commented on earlier in this blog, has made a statement in the Dagbladet article. I consider any article that mentions him as crap, even without reading it. Odds are that I'm correct...

Wilhelm said...

Wow - we actually agree here.

I still think multis are useful, because especially when you are on a fixed diet, the composition fluctuates a bit so that some days you might get too little of some whatevers, also because it's impractical to get enough, say, B complex from your diet because you're working with an upper caloric limit.

Hypothetically, of course.

Anders said...

Wow - we actually agree here.

My new year resolution is to become your brown-nosing, Yes-man. You have way too few of those on your forum. ;-)

Wilhelm said...

Don't I know it.......

Anonymous said...

Your argument is rediculous. Really think about what you are saying.

You state that these tests dont work, and provide the explanaition that taking suppliments while on a bad diet wont do anything, you must also eat a healthy diet.

This is the same as saying homeopathy doesnt work when are not receiving proper medical treatment, but if you have it along side said treatment it will work.

Seriouslly. How retarded are you? In the case of my medicine example, homeopathy is not working, the REAL treatment is working.

In the case of the suppliments, the suppliments arent working (if they did you COULD have them on a bad diet and see an effect), it is the fact you are EATING PROPERLY.

It is this kind of rediculous reasoning that really pisses me off about people. Grow up. Suppliments dont work, and fairies dont exist. Retard

Wilhelm said...

Well well seems Dr. Hawking has honored us with his presence.

First of all, I would seriously recommend that you take some form of elementary English course before you deride the mental faculties of others in written form.

Your main point appears to be that you compare my argument of vitamin supplementation not necessarily being a bad thing to homeopathy, yet you observably struggle to fathom the following: There is such a thing as suffering from a vitamin or mineral deficiency. As far as I know, there is not really a wealth of scientific studies stating that a large fraction of the general population frequently suffers from not having ingested enough overpriced, distilled water.

If you were to elaborate on your comment, perhaps we could identify your particular brand of spasticity.

Your pal,

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excessive sweating said...

Our body needs each type of vitamins and minerals. There is such a thing as suffering from a vitamin or mineral deficiency. The easiest route is to make an effort to have a pretty good diet.