This week my favorite local rag, the New York Times, ran an article in their Well section entitled: Vitamin Pills: A False Hope?. Basically, the article summarizes recent scientific research, concluding that taking a multivitamin doesn't do much to protect us from heart disease or cancer. Nor does taking a multivitamin do any harm.
Wait just a minute, haven't we been told that popping our multi each morning was good for our health?
What's the deal?
Well, here's my theory…
First off, the major study used to draw these conclusions was conducted on 161,000 post-menopausal women (meaning they were on average over 50 years of age), who were ALSO taking some sort of hormone therapy. So can we really know what the health benefits of taking a multi-vitamin are for younger individuals who start taking vitamins at a younger age? And, what about the hormone therapy these women were undergoing… could the hormones be having a negative effect and the vitamins balancing out that negativity? Hmmm…
Secondly, and this topic is highlighted in the New York Times article, when it quoted Dr. Gann (I don't know the guy.. but I agree with his statement):
“There may not be a single component of broccoli or green leafy vegetables that is responsible for the health benefits, why are we taking a reductionist approach and plucking out one or two chemicals given in isolation (i.e. in vitamin form)?”
You see, generally speaking, most multi-vitamins (and individual vitamins like that B6 you take for your nails) are taken out of their natural environment, synthetically derived and lacking essential phytonutrients that our bodies need to properly digest and utilize these vitamins.
What do we do?
Well, obviously, we need to eat our green veggies and fruit. Additionally, when we take vitamins, we need them to be from a “whole food” source. That doesn't mean you have to buy them only at Whole Foods. It means the vitamins are delivered to you (usually in pill form) from actual foods that still contain the phytonutrients that your body needs to assimilate them. Read more on whole food vitamins vs. synthetic ones, here.
But, don't forget to eat your veggies!