It’s no wonder Americans feel as if they are on a roller coaster. A week ago the headlines quoted an editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine: “Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.”  The doctors cautioned their colleagues not to recommend vitamin supplements to patients for preventing chronic conditions such as heart disease or dementia.

This week the headlines did an about face. Now we are told that vitamin E helps Alzheimer’s patients preserve functionality better than placebo or even a pricey prescription medicine. The research, published in JAMA (Jan. 1, 2014) actually showed that the expensive Alzheimer’s drug memantine (brand name Namenda can cost over $300/month) was ineffective for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease compared to placebo. We expect many doctors were surprised to read that 2000 IU of vitamin E daily “was effective in slowing the functional decline of mild to moderate AD [Alzheimer’s disease] and was also effective in reducing caregiver time in assisting patients.”

Why Is There a Double Standard?

We’re not quite sure why so many physicians seem to gloat when a study shows that a particular vitamin is no more effective than placebo to prevent a problem like heart disease and then ignore studies that indicate a benefit. Oddly, when an expensive medication turns out to be no more effective than placebo, there is rarely a big change in prescribing patterns.

Although they were summarizing two research articles published in the same issue of the journal, the editorial writers for the Annals of Internal Medicine selected these studies carefully. They overlooked a recent article demonstrating that men (male physicians) taking a multivitamin supplement reduced their risk of cancer by a small (but statistically significant) margin. The same study volunteers were less likely to develop cataracts if they took a multivitamin rather than a placebo pill, but the editorial makes no mention of that finding, either.

We also find it fascinating that the December editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine stating that vitamins are worthless warned that vitamin E is harmful and should be avoided. The study in this week’s JAMA reported no adverse effects from vitamin E. If anything, the veterans who participated in the study had a reduced risk of dying if they were taking vitamin E, whereas the subjects  taking Namenda were seemingly at an increased risk of dying.

The authors of the new research noted: “Because vitamin E is inexpensive, it is likely these benefits are cost-effective as alpha tocopherol [vitamin E] improves functional outcomes and decreases caregiver burden.”

The Bottom Line

We would never suggest that vitamins are a replacement for nutritious food. We are big fans of farm to table eating. We love to shop at our local farmers market and participate in a CSA (community supported agriculture or community shared agriculture). In these local organizations, customers pay at the start of the season to help the farmer meet the capital expenses of putting in crops. The consumer’s reward is a steady share of the harvest.

We also believe that vitamins can play a vital role in good health. That is especially true for people who have to take medications that may deplete their bodies of essential nutrients. Here is a free Guide to Drug and Nutrient Interactions that will give you a sense of the problem.

We also think that many people are low in magnesium and vitamin D and that even a healthy diet may not be adequate in these nutrients. A glass of orange juice has some vitamin C but is quickly converted into glucose, so it may not be the best way to get your ascorbic acid, another vitamin that might be in short supply for some people.

What is your opinion about the value of vitamin and mineral supplements? We would love to see your comment below.

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  1. Donna A.

    I wanted to thank Jean S. for her detailed information regarding years of continuous vitamin usage. I have suffered two low-back injuries and am just recuperating from the second. In an attempt to steer away from high-powered drugs and injections, I have changed to acupuncture. Prior to the back injury, my regular physician (not the acupuncturist) applauded me to the state of my good health as I was using the Mediterranean Diet, walking, bicycling, gym membership, etc. and suggested a two-year checkup as opposed to yearly with me.
    My body is still weak and I would like to supplement with vitamins. May I ask her to suggest the companies and/or brands that she uses? I realize Peoples Pharmacy will not publish my Email Address, but if Jean or others are having good success with a particular brand, I would appreciate the feedback.

  2. Cindy M. B.

    I think much confusion exists re the difference between VITAMINS vs. other supplements like antioxidants, amino acids, immune-system boosters like Colostrum, anti-inflammatories, etc. I do take all those, but not regular “vitamins,” which I think are what most studies target. I eat a maniacally healthy diet and always take my supplements with food unless they’re to be taken without.
    Despite the big handful of supplements I take daily, I’m pretty conservative. l study all the research results, scour the web and media comparing various opinions and reports. I’m constantly tweaking and vetting my regimen, ditching stuff that seems unnecessary. Even though my diet is excellent, I simply don’t have enough appetite to stuff down all those servings of fruits, veggies, probiotics, nuts, flax, legumes (etc etc) that are recommended for perfect health.
    By all accounts, my regimen is working very well for me. But you really do have to study exactly how the research was done — the form of the supplement, the dosage, and other details. DON’T ever take the “headline” at face value; there’s always more to the story.

  3. Bill

    Peoples Pharm does a wonderful job presenting both sides to any topic and having actual testimonies from the non-commercial public definitely presents a factual side to any topic. I have taken vitamins for 45yrs in one form or another, true that eating vitamin rich foods is the best approach but with frozen dinners and supermarket prepared foods a hustling society tends not to receive proper vitamin intake. As we age, we tend to take time to consider eating healthier since we are aware of friends that didn’t and are experiencing health problems. Your suggestion to eat farm to table is an excellent way to know what you’re eating and to insure that unhealthy mega-farms won’t end up as the only source of food.

  4. t.V.

    I am 50 years old. I have never taken vitamins and more than likely won’t ever. I would not recommend anyone doing as I do. I know my Dr.’s do not like that I do not take calcium but I just choose to eat my nutrition. I am donating my body to science so I would like it not to be contaminated with products like these. It is already questionable what they are doing to our foods.

  5. Jean l.

    I definitely think that vitamins and supplements are very effective for good health. Especially Zinc, Vit D, and C. Zinc is especially valuable to the immune system, but don’t be afraid to take fairly large doses of Zinc. Most zinc lozenges don’t contain nearly enough zinc to do any good. As Hippocrates said centuries ago “good, nutritious food is the best medicine” but our food is not as nutritious as it used to be, so take some vitamins.
    Think about this —- why do people seem to mostly be healthy in the summer, but sick in the cold months? Answer: —-More nutritious food available in summer and Vit D from the summer sun.

  6. R.T.

    If the public were to understand that healthcare is predominantly mired in politics instead of common sense and sound evidence the ever-changing shenanigans with the supplement-bashing allegations would make perfect sense (google/bing “2 Big Lies: No Vitamin Benefits & Supplements Are Very Dangerous by Rolf Hefti”).
    Healthcare is primarily about status and profit rather than public health.

  7. Americo Sanchez

    Gracias a Terry and Joe Gradeon,porque todos los dias en mi pais Peru leo estos extraordinarios articulos. Yo tomo todos los dias 500 mg de Magnesium, 2000 iu de vitamina D3, Saw palmetto 450 mg y me siento muy bien de salud. Los medicos han sido preparados para recetar drogas, que es lo que le conviene a la Industria farmaceutica porque de lo contrario perderian grandes cantidades de dinero.
    Gracias a Ustedes por sus valiosa informaciones. Los suplementos vitaminicos son muy importantes para nuestra salud. Sufria de calambres ( cramps) pero con mi Magnesium nunca mas calambres, gracias a ustedes
    Americo S.
    Trujillo- Peru

  8. DS

    Do not forget Vitamin K2. The Jaminets’ book PHD Diet has very good advice, and Dr. Mercola and Kelly the Kitchen Kop and Sarah the Healthy Home Economist (the last two being Weston A. Price leaders and bloggers) have some very interesting points to make.
    As for what doctors or “studies” say, follow the money. Studies that say taking a paltry amount of Vitamin D makes no difference are probably right. They do not point out that they are studying a paltry amount–they just say it makes no difference.
    I have not heard of anyone dying of taking vitamins but I have heard of plenty of healthy people getting very sick by taking presciptions written by doctors. I agree that food should be where we get our vitamins, and I try to avoid processed food, but it is hard to buy real food these days. If you have elderly relatives who do not take meds or get sick, follow their lead.
    I am 65 and I know that while my father ate butter and bacon and eggs, he was healthy, and when he started drinking skim milk and using margarine because the doctor recommended it, he got sick. My mother never would give up butter and cream and she lived a lot longer.

  9. CAR

    It’s interesting how the pharma & med people can come up with their, sorry, stupid ideas. I have been taking vitamins, herbs for years & they have contributed greatly to my health & well-being.
    From a young child I used to get everything coming down the pike & a couple years ago a “nurse” who was caring for my husband, suggested I take ashwangdha as her Mother is an herbalist in England & told us it helps the immune system to function better. Well, I’ve taken it & amazing grace, I haven’t hardly had any colds or sicknesses like I used to; so now what does the medical profession have to say. I’ve tried it & I know it works.
    They just don’t like that we peons have taken things into our own hands & consume things that help our health & well-being & they don’t get their almighty dollar that they are so greedy of. Vitamins, minerals, & supplements are a much needed thing, specially today because our food supply is so played with. I have a mentally challenged child & we see a big difference in her when she doesn’t get the daily vitamins we give her & my husband has also helped to heal his heart by taking some things prescribed by some of the heart docs that you guys have interviewed. Thank You!

  10. Jean S.

    My husband and I took vitamins long before it was ‘fashionable’ to do so. I listened to Carlton Fredericks and had books by Adelle Davis, and checked carefully the pros and cons of certain supplements. I would much rather take vitamins, in addition to eating properly, than to be loaded up with medications that have such dire possible effects. (The warnings on t.v. ads for these meds. are truly horrible.)
    My husband died in 2012 after contracting pneumonia, and had heart by-pass and a stroke before that. However, I feel that the vitamins he took helped him to live as long as he did (85) still working a week before the stroke. I took care of him at home for the last 5 years of his life, and made sure he took his vitamins (liquid at that time) and ate a balanced diet.
    His mind was good up to the end, and for the last few years, no meds. I take no meds. except two ibuprofen per day when needed. I am still in my own home, and drive locally, and will continue to take my vitamin supplements, and cook my ‘from scratch’ whole grain foods as long as I possibly can do it.
    In 2007 a month before my husband had his stroke, I had surgery for squamous cell cancer in my jaw, have a titanium plate in my jaw, but did not need any chemo. or radiation as it had not spread. The nurses and doctors kept asking me if I was really 80, and one said she was almost ready to follow my vitamin plan.

  11. MB

    I have taken supplements for many years. I am sure I have benefited from them (beat depression with vit d and fish oil) even though I don’t always have pristine health. That to me seems to be the misnomer of all these reports either pro or con. Many think they won’t have health issues if they take supplements so when they do they quit and say supplements were of no benefit.
    Wrong answer. Many are too ill to recover or they want instant results. Like the earlier post, you probably will not notice immediate results. It takes time to get your levels up and you should work with a Naturopathic doctor. Get blood work even if it is costly, you will see the results in black and white. Patience pays off.

  12. floridananny

    There is more than one form of Vitamin E supplements available. Is there a preferred form?
    People’s Pharmacy response: The form used in the study was alpha-tocopherol.

  13. HB

    I have taken Vitamin E-the good stuff for 50 years and it hasn’t caused any problems, in fact it has helped my skin and my mind and my overall being—when I had my daughter at 27 my OBGYN told me to start taking Vitamin e 100 mg then up to 400 mg on a gradual basis— when the experts start telling you this is bad for you and that is not going to be of any help, well I can say from my own experience they are not always correct with their analysis of Vitamins, first they say its bad then months later they say its ok, where do they get their information!!!
    Personally I think that is what keeps me the healthiest—-Vit E, Vit D, Vit B Complex twice daily—hey it’s a lot better than all those horrible drugs that give you one problem after the other, stick with what makes you feel good and say no to the prescription drugs unless its a life and death situation! That is how I feel.
    I have had many bad allergic reactions to drugs and want to stay away from those little devils. Pharmaceuticals are really getting rich off your misery—-I have a problem with my Doctor, you go to his office, the first thing he does is bring out his stupid “computer”, so from now on I sit there and wait for him to finish typing or whatever he is doing and then wait for some kind of conversation!!!!! If I wait long enough he will ask me how are you???? Well if he would look at me and talk to me instead of the computer –I would be one happy patient, there is not enough of this look at me, talk to me as a person—I am not a computer and I don’t have buttons that you hit to make me go and stop.
    Dr’s have bad office manners and I never had this kind of situation until I moved to NC. I have one Dr. that I will probably go back to because she actually looks at you and talks with you, she took a year off and is back in practice and that is the kind of Dr. I want–not a computer wizzzz.
    Thanks for listening, I just get so disgusted with attitudes of Dr’s (not all) but a majority of them are like this, it’s sad to say. I had a Man Dr. in Florida and I can tell you all from all my experiences he was the best and still is the best Dr. I have ever had. He listened, he talked to you, asked questions and gave you answers —I wanted him to move to NC but he likes that darn water in FL.
    Sorry I could talk about this subject all day and it wouldn’t be solved.
    Again thanks for listening.
    I am not a Dr. but I know my body better than anyone and Dr’s don’t want to hear what you think or what you have to say and that is sad for all of us, including them, they have lost contact with the most important thing, contact with the patient, eye to eye contact.
    Thanks for listening

  14. SL

    I take vitamin supplements (multi-, C, D, B, and magnesium), but not every day and not all on the same day. I think they help me feel well. However, for several years I took 400 IU of vitamin E every day. There are several known benefits from this vitamin. After awhile, I began to notice that when I gave blood, there was a very large collection of subcutaneous blood at the point of the needle entry, even though the the needle only penetrated the vein once, at the correct location. I also had some other minor bleeding problems.
    None of this had occurred before I started taking vitamin E. I quit taking this vitamin altogether, and the bleeding problems stopped. I now get my vitamin E, in small amounts by snacking on nuts such as almonds and walnuts.

  15. fbl

    When my son was about 13 he decided that he would make the decision if he needed vitamins or not. He’d had them since he was about six months old and I’d given him vitamin C lozenges to suck on. I just nodded my head and waited.
    It took almost three weeks for him to get his first cold. No, he’d never had a cold or flu before. Needless to say he decided that he would take his vitamins and still does at age 35.

  16. Donnie

    When doctors bash supplements, it is best to follow the money trail, and see where there is a conflict of interest. I have Celiac, thyroid disease and food allergies, and am prone to anemia. My doctors have encouraged me to take vitamins, minerals and other supplements. This is sound advice from ethical doctors. Remember, that healthy patients means lower profits for drug companies, doctors and hospitals. Perhaps, that has something to do with the medical establishment’s ongoing war against supplements, they keep us too healthy.

  17. W. Robnett

    I believe in vitamins & have taken them for years. In the mid 60’s, early marriage, my nerves were horrible. I had a really good friend who I talked to almost daily and she had gone back to work as a pharmacist and one day she stopped by my house and brought some vitamins for me to take. I took them and my nerves got better, but it’s such a gradual thing, I hadn’t put 2 and 2 together. I ran out, but didn’t get anymore. Soon my nerves were horrible again. She asked me if I was still taking the vitamins. I said no because I had run out and it was then that the “light bulb” came on and I have taken them ever since. I did my own study.

  18. cara

    I take supplements because they work for me. These are given to me by my naturopathic doctor. Studies by the regular medical community usually always conclude that supplements and vitamins are valueless. Doctors and the FDA get billions of dollars each year from drug companies. Bribery? I think so. Most Americans don’t eat healthy foods , and our food supplies no longer have the vitamins and minerals they once did. Most people would benefit from taking some vitamins and minerals. I am alive today because of my good naturopathic doctor. He saved my life after being told I had six months to live. That was almost eight years ago. If the FDA says something, I distrust it.

  19. den

    I have always heard that too much Vitamin E can be harmful…2000 mg. of it seems like a lot. What is the truth about it?
    People’s Pharmacy response: Vitamin E is harmful for smokers, increasing the risk of lung cancer. For years, we have not been recommending that people take vitamin E other than getting it from nuts, seeds and fresh oils. We’ll need to see a lot more research to figure out who will benefit and how much to take.

  20. Marilynn M.

    Maybe they won’t prevent heart attacks or stokes. BUT, they DO contribute to my well being, to my feeling better, to less worry. THAT is very valuable!

  21. Carla

    The comments by Barton go to the root cause: the corruption of every aspect of our society by those who control the monetary and banking systems. When surgical treatments prove to be placebos, as demonstrated by the recent study of artheroscopic knee surgery, that report shines a little light into the darkness.
    I am grateful to the People’s Pharmacy for bringing us news of the latest medical and health research untainted by a hidden agenda. You provide a rare service, indeed.

  22. M

    Please note, this is my personal view:
    I am Chemist & professional. Worked as Sales & Marketing Manager for pharma co’s for over 20 years. Published article in any medical journal in USA are tainted. Either paid by third party to meet their objectives. I use all vitamins: B1/B6/B12, folic acid, ascorbic acid, Mg, D, omega 3-6 fatty acid(fish or flax seeds) & multivitamin.
    Beside above vitamins I eat healthy diet loaded with green vegetables & fruits all kinds.

  23. Barton

    Historically, as societies age, they increasingly centralize political and economic power. We are seeing this today, with a vengeance. The super rich grabbing for still more surely explains the startling and shameful increase in inequality we see around us today. Justice Brandeis wrote that we can have tremendous inequalities of wealth in our society, or democracy, but not both.
    This trend also explains much about the corruption of medicine. That problem has gone from individual doctors selling themselves to corporations, to groups of doctors doing so, though perhaps without fully knowing it; perhaps to some degree they are being duped.
    Corporate power in America is so nearly absolute that we need to assume, even with ideas apparently scientifically based that attack alternatives, probably originate in the strategizing centers of corporations and their supporters like the Heritage Foundation.
    This surely applies to is issue of whether or not vitamin supplements are useful. Those attacks have been going on for decades, and will doubtless continue as long as we allow our democracy to be weakened by dangerous concentrations of wealth and power. Thank you Barton Parks

  24. Cm

    When I forget to take magnesium for a few days, my leg cramps remind me. Thanks for all you information.

  25. vich

    I am a firm believer in supplements and have had kidney stone trouble corrected via use of 600mg per day of magnesium glycinate, plus 100mg. of vitamin B6. When the extreme pain caused by kidney stones is removed with vitamins, anyone would believe in their benefit!

  26. ML

    Investigative journalists like Gary Taubes have shown again and again that some health-related recommendations are based on bad science and political/career considerations, NOT the best interests of the people. Like politics, health research seems to be polarized between groups competing for control, power, and the billions of dollars at stake. We are pawns in a very big game. Thanks for giving us some reasoned, balanced information.

  27. VY

    Thank you for continuously mining the research and presenting information in a way that respects the complexity of findings.

  28. Torrence

    I’m sick and tired of the “take this” and “take that” mind set by everyone, especially the doctors. I have been on 3 different BP pills and 2 of them sent me to the hospital. The one I am on now makes it impossible to exercise. I almost fainted when I first started to take it when I exercised.
    I am going to the doctors again and make another change. We might as well have a wheel that we can spin and see where it stops on some meds and give it a try. NO ONE seems to REALLY know the answers. The “EXPERTS” change like the wind and blow us in different directions. And we bend with the efforts and find out it doesn’t work. I’m tired of wasting money on pills that don’t work. My revolving door is going to soon stop and I’ll just give nature a NATURAL try. Who knows, it might work. Believe me, I could go on, but I believe you get the picture.

    • Todd

      I’ve had great success treating many of my own problems w/ natural stuff. But you have to educate yourself- all that stuff is not effective. Of course, the same applies to Rx meds.
      I’m stuck now on an ineffective drug, but because my body is used to it, I’m having trouble stopping it. Can’t say that about natural stuff. I’ve had great results that way, for obvious things like skin & eye conditions, so I don’t believe the docs when they say they don’t work.

      Not one of those drugs actually improve your health- they only suppress symptoms. Is that the way to
      treat a disease? And most of them have gradual toxic effects on the body. What a deal.

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