Time For Another Rant (Multivitamin Edition)... - The UltimateFatBurner Blog

Time For Another Rant (Multivitamin Edition)…

I’m sure you’ve seen the news about the latest study on multivitamins, and how they don’t prevent cancer or CVD in older women.

I’m ok with that…

And no, I don’t intend to stop taking my multi, since preventing cancer and/or CVD isn’t the reason I’m taking one in the first place.  Essential nutrients are one among a larger range of lifestyle factors that weigh in on an individual’s risk of developing certain cancers or cardiovascular disease.  Thus, I would have been surprised to discover that the simple act of taking a concentrated nutrient pill could somehow, magically overcome other negatives. And there are plenty of negatives…I’m in the fitness/nutrition bidness: I SEE what a lot of people put in their shopping carts and order in restaurants.  I SEE what a lot of people do (or don’t do) in the gym.  There’s no freakin’ way a simple pill’s gonna work those kinds of miracles.

I take my multi, to make sure that I have the basics covered…period.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I eat a darned good diet.  But do I eat in such a way that I get 100% of the RDA of each and every nutrient, each and every day?  I tend to doubt it.  I expect I miss targets here and there, so, I use a multi to fill in the blanks.  I’m quite sure that this results in an excess of certain things (like riboflavin, for example), but there’s no harm in that.  I’d just as soon take extra of some (readily excretable) things than not enough of others.

So, as far as I’m concerned, this is really “un-news.”  I find the media circus annoying, but that’s par for the course…it’s the “news du jour” at the moment.  C’est la vie.

What I don’t get, however, is how certain professional scolds are using this study to bash the supp industry and screech for increased regulation.  Unfortunately, it starts at the top, with lead author, Dr. Marian Neuhouser:

Neuhouser also criticizes the deregulation of the supplement industry that occurred in the US in the early 1990s with the introduction of the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act. “The FDA has a small amount of jurisdiction, but it’s an unfunded mandate and their meager budget means they don’t really have any policing power over this,” she noted.

“We have entire aisles in our grocery stores, with all kinds of vitamins, minerals, and so forth. Some are generic or store brand and so not that expensive, but some are extremely expensive. I hate to have consumers spending money on something that may not help them at all, when they could probably better spend it on healthy foods,” she concluded.

Frankly, talk like that scares the hell out of me…I’m proud of my (former) profession as a researcher, and I’d like to think high-ranking scientists like Dr. Neuhouser can reason better than this! 

Is she saying that the makers of multivitamin supplements claim their products will prevent cancer or heart disease?  I see no such claims on the label of my multi, and – contrary to her mewling about how underfunded the FDA is, the one thing they’re really pretty good at, is sending out warning letters regarding unsubstantiated health/nutrition claims (example here).  Is she saying that the FDA should be regulating what manufacturers charge for their products?  I hate to tell the good doctor this, but that’s not the way the free market works…there are a whole slew of overpriced, non-supplement products on the store shelves, too – why single out vitamins?  Is she saying she believes that people take multivitamins instead of buying healthy foods?  I beg to differ.  According to relatively recent (2005) survey:

People reporting both a multivitamin/multimineral and a single supplement (Multi Plus category) and any nonvitamin/nonmineral products (Herbals category) were more likely to be consuming more vegetables and higher-quality fruits and vegetables than those not taking any dietary supplements (Nonusers category).

Dr. Neuhouser would have a better argument if she was claiming that these folks didn’t need to be taking a multi at all, but the above makes it obvious that it’s not an “either/or” proposition – whatever other faults the supp industry has (and I spend my days documenting these) consumers are NOT being beguiled into thinking it’s ok to eat Ding Dongs instead of broccoli, as long as they’re taking a One-A-Day.

On the basis of her quoted remarks, it’s as if she thinks multivitamin products should be “policed” out of existence…which is bizarro-world thinking at best.  If we’re going to start regulating what food/nutritional products should be allowed on store shelves, based on what they do/don’t do to prevent disease, we’d be better off starting with those Ding Dongs…and Cokes, and Doritos, and…well, you get the picture.

Personally, I’d just as soon see the FDA go after the very real danger of contaminated food vs. multivitamin supplements, which – however useless they may be against cancer and CVD – are hazardous only in the imaginations of people like Dr. Neuhouser.  She needs to get her priorities straight.

Author: elissa

Elissa is a former research associate with the University of California at Davis, and the author/co-author of over a dozen articles published in scientific journals. Currently a freelance writer and researcher, Elissa brings her multidisciplinary education and training to her writing on nutrition and supplements.


  1. “Neuhouser also criticizes the deregulation of the supplement industry that occurred in the US in the early 1990s with the introduction of the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act. “The FDA has a small amount of jurisdiction, but it’s an unfunded mandate and their meager budget means they don’t really have any policing power over this,” she noted.”

    What is amazing is how intelligent people often possess poor judgement. During the 20th Century, the governments of the world murdered more than 100 million of their citizens. During the same period, few businesses, if any, engaged in similar atrocities What the researcher fails to realize is that power corrupts and the FDA will be further corrupted if it is granted more power. Moreover, the researcher fails to understand that government regulation is normally monopolist in nature. A major problem with monopolies is how they often reduce signaling so the market does not react with the alacrity it otherwise would. Moreover, government monopolies inspire false confidence because consumers believe that the government in omniscient in it’s regulatory behaviors. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth as witnessed by the recent peanut fiasco. The best course is to have zero governmental regulation. People will then be able to exchange freely and to demand whatever standard they are comfortable with. Moreover, civil action against supplement companies will become a viable regulatory means. If a company promises a certain standard, then violates that standard, they will be open to rampant civil procedures. In a regulated environment these lawsuits will be far less common.

    I wonder if the good researcher would have a physician’s medical license revoked for failing to make a diagnosis? That would seem to be a fair punishment. I have been misdiagnosed several times and no punishment has ever visited the physicians. Yet another reason to enable a true free-market in medicine.

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