The New York Times published an article last week called Vitamins: A False Hope? (it became the most emailed article on their site). In it, the writer described results from a recent large study in which supplements showed no benefit for certain types of cancer or heart disease in postmenopausal women. Other studies have shown similar lack of benefit in men, again focusing on cancer and heart disease. Researchers are "puzzled" why people continue to take vitamins when "the benefits of vitamins and nutrients [are] not supported by the available scientific data.”
Maybe it's just me, but I think the researchers are overestimating vitamins' intent. They are not meant as a magic pill against dire illness; they are not even meant to substitute for foods. Vitamins are supplements -- that is, they are meant to supplement, to round out or make up for a slight lack in a healthy, balanced diet. I don't eat fish two or three times a week, so I take an omega-3 supplement. I don't eat quite enough calcium-rich foods to get the entire daily recommended amount (1,000mg for women), so I take part of a calcium supplement. I get anemic easily, so at times I take an iron supplement (recommended by my doctor, in fact). And I take a multivitamin to make up for the fact that I think our food supply is enough corrupted that I may not get some of the trace nutrients that I need, even though I eat a VERY balanced and healthy diet.
Of course it's best to get all of one's nutrients straight from the food source. But when that's not happening, vitamins may provide the helpful missing link. What do you think?