Expert Commentary: Stuart Diamond, Editor-in-Chief - June 5, 2009

So another dirty secret? Vitamins a fraud? Another great hoax on the public? It’s an important question, because the public is spending billions of dollars on vitamins. The history of Vitamins – as are many health cures -- is often faddish. Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and now Vitamin D. Each was presented as the next health-saving supplement. Not that they were completely discounted, but the hype was more than follow-up studies demonstrated. A consensus though seems to be building that 3 supplements do have positive impact on our health. They are Vitamin D, Calcium and Fish Oil or Omega-3s.

And what about those simple every day multivitamins? A December story in US News and World Report discussed the research that to date there is little evidence that over the counter multivitamins do much of anything -- least of all increase your life span.

Should we bother? Unfortunately, there is one subtlety about those multivitamins that no one I suspect is taking into account -- the “magic pill” effect. I am sure there may be a lot of positive placebo effects that may come from taking a “magic” multivitamin, even if it has little impact on our actual material health.

But what about the “dark side” of the magic pill effect?  And I am as guilty of this as anybody. Pop your “magic pill” in the morning and somehow I think I am protected for a full day against hamburgers, French fries, ice cream, etc.  I’ve concocted the belief that the multivitamin possesses some super vitamin qualities that can counter all the fat, cholesterol and other less that optimal  consumables I have eaten in the course of a day.  Just another example of one of the many health delusions we like to play on ourselves.

The opposite, of course, is just as true. Take the multivitamin in the morning along with whole grain cereals, followed by a day of green-leaf munching and high fiber fruits and I am convinced I will live to be 110.

So is it another chicken and egg story? Which comes first? Take your vitamins and become healthy… or become healthy and take a few extra vitamins… as a supplement. Just as the word says: vitamins, at their best, are a supplement to good health.


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