January 5, 2014

Should You Spend Money on Vitamins?

[note: for any health related topic you should consult your doctor as they would have more knowledge of your personal health]

Every day I take a single mult-vitamin and a extra dose of vitamin D.

Articles like this editorial Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements published in the Annals of Internal Medicine might make me believe that I'm wasting my money.   The editorial seems based on these three studies :
Oral High-Dose Multivitamins and Minerals After Myocardial Infarction: A Randomized Trial Long-Term Multivitamin Supplementation and Cognitive Function in Men: A Randomized Trial Vitamin and Mineral Supplements in the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer: An Updated Systematic Evidence Review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force

I read those as meaning that vitamins in high doses won't stop heart attacks, vitamins won't keep you from losing mental abilities in older age and that vitamins don't prevent cancer or heart disease.   OK.   I wasn't expecting that vitamins would stop cancer or heart attacks.    My purpose for using vitamins is to prevent a common vitamin deficiency.   I don't have any specific reason to think I'm prone to have a vitamin deficiency but how do you know?   There are a significant number of people with deficiencies and most don't know it.   I figure vitamins are a fairly cheap way to make sure that doesn't happen.   I don't expect them to stop cancer.  Do people really expect their multi-vitamin to prevent heart attacks or fend off dementia?  

If you do take a multi-vitamin then make sure to shop around and get a reasonably priced one.   If you get store brands like Kirkland or similar or hunt for sales then you can find tablets for about 3¢ each.  

You can get a Kirkland muti-vitamin for $14.49  with 500 tablets or about 3¢ a day. or get it at Amazon for $17 or so if you don't belong to Costco.  Similarly  you can get  a NOW Foods Vitamin D-3 1000 IU  supplement at Amazon for under 3¢.    I'm spending abut $2 a month on vitamins.  Thats not too much money really.

Maybe its a waste of money but I don't know.   In fact I actually hope it is a waste of money because that would mean I'm not deficient in any vitamins.   In my opinion the cost of reasonably priced vitamins is quite small and I think that its worth it just to make sure you don't end up deficient with something like vitamin A or vitamin D or iron for example.  

Whether or not you want to take vitamins is up to you.   

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  1. I changed to a pill every other day. We eat plenty of fruits and vegetables so I'm pretty sure we are okay. A couple of years ago, I had low vitamin D. I guess that's pretty common with our long winter.
    Happy New Year!

  2. What some of the studies are showing and/or news reports about those studies are saying (whether or not the original study reported on said what the news report says it said) is that not only are vitamins a cost (be it small) for no benefit; but in fact some vitamins are actually detrimental. One that has been known for a long time is iron supplements - they actually shorten your life a little bit on average, so you don't want to take them without a good reason (presumably that they lengthen your life more than they shorten it).

    That said, it's a very (very very) complicated issue. For instance, what about the placebo effect? That could mean that if you think a multivitamin might help you, then it actually might help you. If so, it's well worth the $2/month. And on the other side, the doses of vitamins in most multivitamins are not at dangerous levels. So it probably won't hurt. But then again, what about homeostasis effects? For instance anti-lock brakes don't save lives (at least, not as many as they should); we compensate for the improved safety by being worse drivers. Do we compensate for vitamins by eating otherwise worse diets than we would have if we were relying on food for all of our nutrients?

    Also, the studies tend to be very specific, as you mentioned: the effect of this vitamin on the probability of that disease. With the matrix of vitamins vs. diseases, it seems virtually impossible that they'll test them all, ever, in a way that would be statistically meaningful. Maybe some day the combination of big data and the commercial surveillance state will combine to make such multivariant studies possible?


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