Vitamin usage and illness

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Vitamin usage and illness
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It has long been known that vitamins have a marginal usage:  to restore health when a condition develops from a deficient diet.  The two classic examples are beriberi and scurvy.   Numerous well-structured studies have failed to turn up benefits in health people for the taking of specific vitamins—most studied are vitamins A, B1, C, and E.  Nevertheless there has developed a billion-dollar industry that prey upon the uninformed common heard.  A British study confirms the prior studies. 


Multivitamins with Minerals: Use in Healthy Older Adults Shows No Benefit


Worst Pills Best Pills Newsletter article December, 2005, 

Research published in the August 6, 2005 British Medical Journal  found that the daily use of a multivitamin with a mineral supplement by people over 65 years of age did not did not affect numbers of infections, use of health care services, quality of life, number of antibiotic prescriptions, or hospital admissions compared to an inactive placebo. These results support previous research from randomized, controlled clinical trials (the scientific “gold standard” for proving effectiveness) that found no benefit from vitamin and mineral supplements in preventing infections in older adults.  

In this study, the subjects were aged 65 or over, living at home, and had not used vitamins, minerals, fish oil supplements, or vitamin B-12 injections in the previous three months. They were classified as healthy older adults.

The study was conducted in Scotland. It included 910 men and women. There were 456 older adults randomly assigned to take the vitamin and mineral supplement for a period of one year. Likewise, 454 subjects were assigned to take a placebo for the same period. The table accompanying this article lists the amounts of vitamins and minerals used in the daily supplement in this study.

The researchers measured the number of contacts the study participants had with a primary care physician or a health care worker and the number of antibiotic prescriptions. General practice records were the only source of information on contacts with primary care and antibiotic prescriptions in over 94% of cases. Data were also collected on the number of days that antibiotics were prescribed; the number of hospital admissions including those for infections; the number of days in the hospital with an infection; the number of infections and related outpatient visits. The researchers also measured the number of self-reported days of infection, adverse events and health-related quality of life, as found from a survey of the study participants.  No differences were found between the study participants taking the daily vitamin and mineral supplement versus placebo for any of the measures listed above.

The editorial that accompanied this trial in the same issue of the British Medical Journal made a very good point: “Evidence is increasing for a holistic approach to improving diet rather than focusing too closely on the effects of individual nutrients on risk factors and preventing disease.”  

The editorial also suggests that “If combined with physical activity, which can increase appetite and enable a diet of marginal nutrient density to become adequate, a better diet can make a substantial impact on population health, particularly of older people. Supplements of vitamins and minerals might still benefit older people with increased risk of infections and those with evidence of vitamin deficiencies. But we will not know for sure until further robust studies have been done among high risk groups, including those with poor immunity and those living in institutional care.“ We agree.

What You Can Do

You should not being paying an exorbitant price for vitamin and mineral supplements claiming to treat or prevent disease. If you are an older adult, adding a simple, inexpensive vitamin and mineral supplement to a healthy life-style, a good diet, and exercise may be useful (see article in Worst Pills, Best Pills News, November, 2005).






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Alternative medicine is like religion: faith, spurious claims, and damn the best reasoned conclusion.