Where Multivitamins Went Wrong

  • Multivitamins present the most practical and economical opportunity for the public to make up for gaps in the high calorie/nutrient insufficient American diet.
  • Despite alleged claims multivitamins increase mortality rates, they are safer than tap water, table salt, and aspirin. 
  • The US Department of Agriculture provides an online resource that confirms hundreds of millions of Americans are deficient in essential vitamins and minerals.
  • Blood tests to determine nutrient adequacy are notoriously inaccurate and only represent recent consumption.
  • The suggestion to eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day fell flat in lowering mortality rates for cancer and heart disease.   There is no practical way the best diet is going to meet all your nutritional needs all of the time.
  • Modern medicine continues to address every malady as if it were a drug deficiency when they are often rooted in nutrient shortages and imbalances.  Drugs are inappropriately used to address symptoms of nutrient deficiency and therefore the public never gets well.
  • Modern medicine and the FDA have a long-standing war against multivitamins.
  • For prevention, modern medicine offers baby aspirin, statin cholesterol-lowering drugs and Polypills (3 classes of low-dose drugs – aspirin, statin, 3 blood pressure-lowering drugs), all which are ineffective and pose the problem of side effects.  These preventives plus over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs kill thousands of Americans every year even when properly used.  An apple a day lowers mortality rates better than any of these drugs.
  • Even though the Supplement Facts panel on multivitamins says “100% of the Daily Value,” it is misleading and creates a false sense of adequacy.  Most multivitamin users purchase cheaply priced ($5/month) products that are labeled to provide 100% of The Daily Value.  The most expensive vitamin supplement is one that does not work.  (Also, the two major brands of multivitamins are offered by drug companies, in case you wanted to know. Keep the people malnourished.  It sells more drugs.)
  • Many supplement users are attracted to exotic herbs and supplements while ignoring shortages of essential nutrients.
  • Despite the great promise of multivitamins they continue to disappoint because they have not been updated to correlate with the latest science.
  • Multivitamins do not address the problem of poor absorption due to declining secretion of stomach acid with advancing age.  There are forms of lettered vitamins and minerals that exhibit superior absorption compared to nutrients provided in common multivitamins. The New Truth About Vi... Sardi, Bill Best Price: $0.10 Buy New $8.45 (as of 08:15 UTC - Details)
  • Multivitamins do not encompass the newly gained knowledge that foods and supplements need to promote healthy gut bacteria if a state of health is to be maintained.  Symptomless low-grade inflammation in the gut is a hallmark of aging.
  • Multivitamins need to provide nutrients that inhibit over-clotting of blood like wine does.  Blood clots are a primary feature of strokes, heart attacks and cancer.
  • Multivitamins need to include low-dose polyphenols from grapes, apples and spices (resveratrol, quercetin, cloves, etc.) that are small molecules that favorably alter hundreds of genes.
  • Multivitamins can provide supplemental nucleotides (steps on the DNA ladder) to facilitate DNA repair.  Few multivitamins do.
  • Avid health seekers learn about dietary supplement ingredients one at a time and often end up with 20+ bottles of pills on their breakfast table.
  • A well-made multivitamin can reduce the number of pills that elite supplement users consume on a daily basis and consolidation should reduce costs.

The latest in a series of articles that disparage multivitamins is written by, of all people, a comedian.  [Wikipedia] However, the battle to rectify widespread nutrient deficiencies in the US population is no laughing matter.  Alex Riley, comic and writer for the BBC, penned a recent article entitled “Why vitamin pills don’t work and may be bad for you.” [BBC News Dec 8, 2016]

I won’t give blind approval of multivitamins because, as explained below, for a variety of reasons they often don’t live up to their promise of filling nutrient gaps in the diet and improving the healthspan and lifespan of Americans.

However, nothing could be farther from the truth in regard to multivitamin supplement safety.  In fact, poison control center data shows dietary supplements to be safer than tap water, table salt, and aspirin.

Despite conjured up claims vitamin pills increase the risk for death, habitual use of multivitamins is potentially the most effective practice at filling nutritional gaps in the American diet and the best bargain among all dietary supplements.  It would cost many times more to purchase all the ingredients in a multivitamin individually.

The war against multivitamins

The FDAs war on multivitamins dates back to the 1940s when Adolphus Hohensee, a so-called huckster, promoted vitamin tablets to make up for over-processed foods and crops that were depleted of nutrients.  [] Hohensee had foresight.  Today we know his sales pitch to supplement the processed American diet with vitamin pills was correct.

Modern attacks against multivitamins date back nearly a decade. [New York Times, Feb 16, 2009] And it’s not that they don’t have any scientific backing.  It is just when you look behind the curtains, you wonder what all the fuss was about. 

The major finding with multivitamins in regard to the reduction of mortality is that they are just ineffective, not problematic.  [American Journal Clinical Nutrition Jan 2015; Annals Internal Medicine Dec 17, 2013; Journal American Medical Assn. Nov 14, 2012] A newly published review concludes multivitamins generally produce only transient and minor side effects and do not increase mortality. [Nutrition Jan 2017]

Myths, Misunderstandings and Outright lies about owning Gold. Are you at risk?

Biased criticism of dietary supplements reached its peak in February of 2014 when the Annals of Internal Medicine slammed multivitamins with its now infamous “enough is enough” editorial.  [Annals Internal Medicine 2014]  The Annals report was strongly rebutted by this author. [Knowledge of Health Feb 24, 2014] User’s Guide to ... By (author) Bill Sardi Best Price: $9.28 Buy New $10.06 (as of 11:39 UTC - Details)

I won’t go into full rebuttal mode here as I have addressed the falsehoods that vitamins increase the risk of death and other mistaken criticisms in prior postings.  [Knowledge of Health April 23 2015; Feb 24, 2014; Jan 6, 2014; Dec 18, 2013; April 8, 2016March 7, 2016]

High-calorie malnutrition

One of the obviously mistaken assumptions is that because Americans are well fed they must be well nourished and have no need for vitamin pills.  What we have in this modern era is what Dr. Derrick Lonsdale calls “high-calorie malnutrition” (also known as empty calorie syndrome). [Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. 2015] 

Not convinced you need to take vitamin pills?

In case you’re not convinced and think you are being oversold on the need for vitamin pills, take a gander at the US Department of Agriculture online tool where health-minded consumers can search to learn just how prevalent a deficiency of a particular vitamin or mineral is in the population.  []

I’ve consolidated that USDA data and report that more than 100 million Americans out of a 325 million population are deficient in each of the following essential vitamins and minerals: magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B9 (folic acid), zinc and potassium.  Millions more Americans are deficient in vitamin B1, B3, and B12. 

Still, think you are being duped into taking vitamin pills?

If you still think you are being duped into relying on vitamin pills and you will get your doctor to order blood tests to reveal any nutrient deficiencies, think again.  Blood tests only reveal recent consumption. 

Testing laboratories provide an interpretation of your blood/nutrient levels as to whether you are in the normal reference range, i.e. normally occurring range.  But if nearly everyone is deficient, which is often the case for vitamins C and D and minerals zinc and magnesium, you may fall into the normal inadequate range.  In your eyes, your blood test is normal.  The reference range couldn’t be further from providing you the truth about your nutritional needs. 

For example, frequently people who are vitamin B12 deficient find their blood test is in the normal range but supplementation with vitamin B12 produces noticeable improvements in short-term memory, relief of backaches, insidious cough, unrelenting fatigue and sore tongue. 

Some nutrients like magnesium are largely found in tissues and bone, not the blood.  Zinc is often bound to a binding protein (metallothionein), rendering it non-bioavailable.  Blood tests of nutrients are abysmally inaccurate.

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Nutritional gaps in the American diet are highly prevalent yet public health authorities and the BBCs Mr. Riley continue to mindlessly suggest we all be good boys and girls and consume 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, which should be sufficient to meet nutrient needs they say. 

However, the 5-A-Day program fell flat on its promise to lower the mortality rate for cancer and health authorities never really confessed to its failure.  The disappointing results were sheepishly announced in an overseas medical journal. [British Medical Journal 2010]

No, you are not being duped by a bunch of con-men into taking multivitamin pills.  []

Modern medicine presumes your maladies emanate from a drug deficiency.

Suffice to say modern medicine utilizes a lot of drugs and profits handsomely from diseases that have their origins in nutritional shortages and imbalances.  The fact the biological action of most drugs can be replicated with vitamins, minerals, herbals and amino acids is instructive.  Americans are being gamed.  Offer Americans drugs to quell the symptoms caused by nutrient deficiencies.  Then they will never get well.

The great disappointment: multivitamins

Enough said on the crying need to take vitamin supplements.  A prevalent problem is that multivitamins may not live up to their promise to fill nutrient gaps and adequately nourish a population of Americans for the following reasons.

Most multivitamins today:

(a) Have not been updated to match changing nutritional science;

(b) Do not correlate with nutrient intake levels from foods and published adequate intake levels;

(c) Do not take into consideration poor absorption due to lack of stomach acid secretion with advancing age;

(d) Do not encompass the new understanding of the need to promote healthy gut bacteria;

(e) Do not tap into newly identified ways to molecularly slow down the aging process. The Anti-Aging Pill, I... Bill Sardi Best Price: $44.36 Buy New $290.99 (as of 11:30 UTC - Details)

(f) Multivitamins are formulated to provide the Daily Value that was designed for totally healthy Americans, not to meet the increased demands for nutrients among people who are chronically diseased, who take nutrient-depleting medications, who are hospitalized or in nursing homes, who smoke tobacco, abuse alcohol, eat too much sugar and carbohydrates, who are under physical or emotional stress, and who are diabetic. (Who’s left?)  100% of the Daily Value is totally misleading as to what you personally need to stay healthy.

Essential nutrients versus exotic dietary supplements

Furthermore, to add to the problem many avid supplement users get distracted with exotic herbals in preference over nutrients that are essential for life.  The priority should be to fill dietary shortages of essential nutrients first, the lettered vitamins and essential minerals. 

I talked to a man on the telephone recently whose supplement regimen consisted of ginseng, rhodiola, mushroom extract and hydrogen water, along with red yeast rice and bee pollen.  No essential nutrients in his daily supplement regimen whatsoever and he wanted to know why he had anxiety and chronic pain.

Modern medicine’s ineffective and problematic remedies

In lieu of multivitamins, modern medicine foists its own ineffective and problematic remedies on the public.  Aspirin, in particular, baby aspirin (81 mg) is largely ineffective in preventing a heart attack.  And any size aspirin tablet can induce bleeding gastric ulcers or brain hemorrhage. [American Journal Medicine 2010]

More than 50 million Americans inappropriately take an aspirin for prevention of a heart attack. [Journal American College Cardiology Jan 2015]  Aspirin is said to kill 400% more Americans than the flu (20,000 estimated deaths per year).  [American Journal Medicine July 27, 1998]

There is no benefit in taking a statin cholesterol-lowering drug if your risk for a heart attack or stroke is less than 20% over the next 10 years.  [British Medical Journal Oct 22, 2013] Over 4 out of 10 statin drug users are forced to cease taking them due to side effects.  [New England Journal Medicine June 24, 2015] 

The Polypill is modern medicine’s equivalent to a multivitamin.  It is a combination low-dose aspirin (ineffective/problematic), a statin cholesterol-lowering drug (ineffective/problematic) and 3 blood pressure lowering medications (ineffective or you would need 3 of them/also problematic.  About 10% of subjects taking the Polypill will develop a chronic cough from taking one of the blood pressure medications (lisinopril). [Journal Royal Society Medicine Dec 1, 2009]

In a large study (1813 subjects) the combination of any two of three medicines (statin, aspirin, blood pressure drug) was ineffective.  All three were required to reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke, which increases the risk for side effects. [American Heart Journal Aug 2013]  Patient compliance is also low with Polypills.

Multivitamins: buying on price, not quality

Another problem is that consumers generally buy multivitamins based on price, not quality, spending $32-62 a year.  That amounts to $5/month.  [Canadian Family Physician Aug 2013] An apple a day would serve you better.  An apple a day is equivalent to heart attack risk reduction to taking a statin cholesterol-lowering drug.  [British Medical Journal 2013] 

Multivitamins need to be absorbed

A major problem is that multivitamins are not formulated to overcome the age-related decline in absorption of nutrients due to low stomach acid secretion or the use of antacids that so many adults so commonly use.  One study found frequent use of a cheap multivitamin resulted in 28% of users not reaching the Adequate Intake level for vitamin K and 18% for magnesium.  [Journal Family Practice Sept 2016]

The common forms of nutrients in most multivitamins may still leave your body malnourished.  [Knowledge of Health Nov 29, 2015] Malabsorption due to lack of stomach acid is a widespread problem among older adults.  Re-acidification of the stomach needs to be incorporated into multivitamins in the form of betaine. 

Cheap nutrients that don’t deliver health

Optimally absorbed and utilized forms of vitamins and minerals need to be supplied in multivitamins, such as:

  • The fat-soluble form of thiamin/vitamin B1 (Benfotiamine) is preferred instead of the water-soluble form (thiamin hydrochloride). 
  • About a third of humanity cannot adequately metabolize folic acid (vitamin B9).  Folate (as 5-methyltetrahydrofolate) should be provided as it is absorbed even when stomach acid levels are low. 
  • Vitamin B12 provided as methylcobalamin is recommended over cyanocobalamin (actually derived from cyanide).
  • Commonly used zinc oxide is insoluble and other forms of zinc are preferred (citrate, acetate, others). 
  • Natural vitamin D3 is far superior to synthetic vitamin D2. 
  • Both forms of vitamin E (tocopherols/Tocotrienols) are favored over just tocopherols. 
  • Magnesium oxide is the most economical and commonly used a form of magnesium but just 4% of magnesium oxide is absorbed.  It shouldn’t even be sold.  []
  • Organically-bound forms of selenium are preferred over selenite or selenite.

Multivitamins must promote healthy gut bacteria

Most multivitamins do not incorporate the newly discovered understanding that healthy gut bacteria are required to overcome low-grade inflammation that is characteristic of aging (inflammaging).  All the anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, aspirin, acetaminophen) won’t do. 

The provision of non-pathogenic acid-forming bacteria (probiotics Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidus) and prebiotics (nutrients that promote the growth of good bacteria like beta glucans, apple pectin, resveratrol, quercetin) is now considered to be of prime importance in health maintenance.  And no, yogurt doesn’t rebalance your gut bacteria.  [Knowledge of Health April 21, 2016]

These and other reasons are why consumers are short-changed when taking multivitamins. 

Where are the polyphenols?

A glass of wine would be more protective than multivitamins or Polypills for heart attacks and strokes.

Taking the solids (polyphenols) out of wine and placing them in a multivitamin would do more good.  Resveratrol, being the chief molecule in red wine that is attributed to its many health benefits, would be at the top of the list of molecules to add to multivitamins.

Resveratrol does all what an aspirin or statin drug does and is over 50 times more effective than metformin, an anti-diabetic drug, and in contrast to Rx medications, in modest dose is not associated with significant side effects or inducement of nutrient deficiencies.  There have been no serious side effects reported by poison control centers for resveratrol in the past decade.

A major drawback of multivitamins is that there are no ingredients that effectively inhibit blood clots.  Over-clotting is linked to many life-threatening maladies — strokes, cancer, heart attacks.

Resveratrol inhibits clumping of blood platelets in arteries even among patients with aspirin resistance. [Journal Cardiovascular Pharmacology Aug 2006]  Just like aspirin, resveratrol prevents an abnormal number of chromosomes (tetraploidy) that is thought to be a precursor for cancer. [Proceedings National Academy Sciences Feb 25, 2014] 

Like B vitamins, resveratrol inhibits homocysteine, an undesirable blood protein associated with brain and cardiovascular disease. [Clinical Chemistry Laboratory Medicine 2005]

A companion to resveratrol would be quercetin, which inhibits inflammation and blood clotting like aspirin but is a far superior antioxidant. [Acta pharmacologica Sinica 1993]

The combination of resveratrol + quercetin even inhibits the re-closure of coronary arteries following the placement of a stent. [Journal Nutrition Aug 2012]

Not only do resveratrol and quercetin inhibit inflammation and formation of blood clots, they facilitate the disposal of cholesterol from the liver and amyloid plaque from the brain, have germicidal properties against viruses, bacteria and fungi, serve as a natural antidepressant by virtue of their ability to inhibit homocysteine and monoamine oxidase, are 50-200 times more effective than metformin and also favorably influence hundreds of genes involved in aging and trigger an internal gene switch that activates internal enzymatic antioxidants (glutathione, catalase, SOD) that protect critical organs (heart, brain, eyes) against threats posed by lack of oxygen, a phenomenon called preconditioning. [Medicine 2016; Diabetes Aug 2006; Free Radical Biology Medicine Oct 2016]

It is strikingly surprising that few if any multivitamins include polyphenols in their formulations.

Another polyphenol that can boost antioxidant protection is clove bud powder.  Cloves are the strongest antioxidant in nature.  [Food Chemistry 2009]

DNA repair

Even the most elite vitamin users don’t realize that DNA spare parts (nucleotides adenine, guanine, thymine, cytosine — the steps on the DNA ladder) can be provided in a multivitamin.  The body’s pool of nucleotides can be depleted during wound healing, recovery from burns, and after intense exercise.  Nucleotides are especially important during body repair, wound healing, burns and muscle building.  Astronauts are given supplemental nucleotides to boost their immunity.  Prematurely born infants have nucleotides added to their formula to encourage growth. 

Ugh: 28 vitamin pills every morning

Having written a dozen health books including a text on multivitamins, I probably know too much now.  The more you learn about dietary supplements the more you want to take.  Like many others, I attempt to swallow down 28 vitamin, mineral, amino acid and herbal pills every morning, and more in the afternoon and at dinner.  It is very tedious (36 pills in 24 hours).  I kiddingly say to myself: “I take food with my vitamins, not vitamins with my food.” I was spending $12/day on dietary supplements.  I wanted (and needed) all those optimal forms of vitamins and minerals, not the cheap ingredients. 

Finally, compelled to do something about carrying 20 bottles of dietary supplements on road trips and swallowing all those pills, I formulated a multivitamin that encompasses all what you have learned above.  I call it THE MOLECULAR MULTI.  I’m down to taking 4 multivitamin capsules ($1.39/day), 1 magnesium tablet and 2 fish oil soft gel capsules, 7 pills in all per day, to meet my need for essential nutrients.  I have consolidated my pill count and reduced my costs.  Sometimes you just have to take a problem and put it in your own hands.  I also take pumpkin seed oil for my prostate gland and a resveratrol pill I formulated.  Additionally I take vitamin C throughout the day.  All tolled, 12 pills a day instead of 36.