All adults should take a daily multivitamin, according to research published in the June 19 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The recommendation is a reversal of the journal's long-standing position that multivitamins were unnecessary because essential nutrients could be obtained in the diet.
The authors, two Harvard Medical School researchers who reviewed 150 scientific studies from 1966 to early 2002, concluded that people who take vitamins may protect themselves from certain chronic diseases. For example, they reported that inadequate levels of antioxidant vitamins A, C and E may increase heart disease and cancer risk; low levels of folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 are risk factors for heart disease, neural tube defects and colon and breast cancer; and that inadequate vitamin D intake contributes to osteoporosis and bone fractures.
"This may not sound like a real breakthrough in terms of exciting new ground broken, but in fact it is," said Annette Dickinson, Ph.D., vice president, scientific and regulatory affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based Council for Responsible Nutrition. "Many physicians have endorsed specific supplements for specific populations, but going beyond that to recommend that the entire population would benefit from a good solid multivitamin is news."
It is the first time in 20 years that JAMA has reviewed its stance on vitamin supplementation. Although the media has portrayed the JAMA article as an about-face on its anti-vitamin position, Dickinson sees it as a progression. "We've just come to a critical mass where the population that would benefit from [multivitamins] is now large enough, and the evidence is solid enough, that it really warrants an across-the-board recommendation."
The study not only gives credibility to the supplements industry, but also will most likely increase consumer vitamin use, Dickinson said. "[The study] may help people turn to supplements as a tool because it's an easy thing to do," Dickinson said. "A lot of people are overwhelmed with product choices, but I think that if they can be directed toward a specific multivitamin, it will be a wonderful entry point."
Contrary to the JAMA study, the British journal The Lancet released an Oxford University study on July 6 in which the authors concluded that vitamins were "a waste of money." Researchers tracked 20,000 people, aged 20 to 40, for five years and concluded that vitamins C and E and beta-carotene did not prevent cancer, heart problems, strokes or other diseases.
Critics of the Oxford University research point out that it was funded by Roche and Merck, makers of statin drugs that the study authors praise for treating heart disease. The researchers also found that mega-doses of antioxidants are not harmful, yet this went unreported, according to Bill Sardi, president of Knowledge of Health Inc. in San Dimas, Calif.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 8/p. 1