Sunday 8 November 2009

Tight Fist Tip #30: Multi-Vitamins are Multi-Crappy

Which Is The One That Makes My Mother Love Me?

Hey wouldn't it be great if every morning you could take a special pill, and that amazing super-pill would prevent all kinds of nasty diseases? And even better, what if that pill improved your concentration, made you stronger, and helped you please that special someone? Man, that would be so awesome! Well, you're in luck! Because there are tons of companies out there that will sell you such a pill, and their claims are totally backed up by 'science'! What is this magic pill called? A Multivitamin!

But what exactly is it that these vitamins do for you? Well, for the latest in nutrition breakthroughs we had better trust the experts working for the high-tech lab that is the Centrum Health Center. Let's take a look of some of the amazing features that a multivitamin will give you:

1. Vitamin A can help keep you smiling and at your best by supporting your immune system and protecting epithelial cells that line your entire body.*
2. Vitamin C, when combined with Vitamin E, helps optimize antioxidant power and can help support immune health.*
Eating Food Is For Suckers

3. Did you know that great skin starts from the inside? It's true: The right combination of vitamins and other nutrients can help you maintain healthy skin.*

And those are just drops in the bucket. Man, this multivitamin thing is a total no-brainer! But wait one second, what's the deal with those little stars after every single health claim. Could that provide some useful information?

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Wait, what? But, what about all that "supporting immune health" and "protect cells from damage" business? That has nothing to do with disease prevention? If multivitamins are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, WHAT FREAKING GOOD ARE THEY? (Maybe they taste really really good?)

Obviously, the brilliant folks at Centrum just hope no one reads the fine print. Although it seems pretty clear to me, maybe I can just clarify this fine print 'legalese' for the rest of us out there. I'd say any of these following would also suffice

*The above statements are exactly vague enough to completely mislead you without getting us sued. Our lawyers slaved over them for weeks.
*The above statements are intended to fool stupid people into buying our snake oil. If you are smart enough to read the small print, you've figured us out. Nice work!
*These above statements are complete bullshit.

Now look, I'm not trying to argue that vitamins and other micro-nutrients aren't necessary for health. I'm just saying that if you do crazy things like eat a variety of foods, you're going to be just fine. But bar a few exceptions, taking vitamins along with a healthy diet has never proven to have any beneficial effect.

If anyone is interested in this type of topic, I highly recommend you check out the blog (and associated book) Bad Science, which is written by doctor and journalist Ben Goldacre. For some fun posts on vitamins, check out here, here, and here.


  1. True that, David! Its funny how many things we believe based on marketing... I never realised vitamen supplements had not been shown to increase health.. Eating healthy however.. HAS been shown to...


    It's all true!!!

  3. It could be that the statements that are written on the supplement you found arent "evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration" but this doesnt mean they dont have many years of studies from well-respected scientific journals to back up these claims. I don't know why the supplement had the strange *stars on the statements - perhaps for legal reasons so that people who expect too much of a supplement dont sue the company for being unable to cure them. The human body is such a complicated machine, no one supplement can ever guarantee to cure all. As someone who has done degrees in nutrition I can tell you for a fact that there are studies backing up that vitamin C and E have important antioxidant action, and that vitamin C boosts immunity. Go ahead and check pubmed and you'll see. I can also guarantee that if you shadow a nutritionist at work, you'll see the strong beneficial effects simple supplements can have. With the average person's diet having far from sufficient amounts of fresh food and nutrient-dense foods and nutritious vegetables in them, and with our soils being depleted of minerals due to overfarming and with our lives giving us high levels of stress making us use up our nutrients at ever-faster rates, a lot of people have subclinical deficiencies of some nutrient or another. If you have anything in your body that is bothering you, supplementation may well be able to help give you a boost in the right direction until you get your diet and other driving forces of the problem under control.