In the middle of December, a controversial study appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine, one that declared that not only were multivitamins not beneficial for the treatment or prevention of disease, but that they may actually contribute to sickness.

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An editorial that accompanied the research featured the attention-grabbing headline, “Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.” The press quickly jumped on and parroted the line in their own stories, for example, Grist’s take on it, which blared: “Vitamin D’oh: Your multivitamins aren’t doing a damn thing.”

Other voices dissented, including representatives of the Linus Pauling Institute, which criticized the editorial for its stark conclusion that the case on multivitamins was closed and they should be avoided. A Pauling spokesperson stated that it was “highly premature and unscientific” to do so.

He says, she says

In the two studies released jointly in the AIM in December, one followed 6,000 men aged 65+ over 12 years, and found no difference in cognitive function between those who took a multivitamin and those who were given a placebo (a dummy pill that the participants believe is the real medication).

In the second study, 1,700 men and women who had previously suffered heart attacks were given a high-dose multivitamin over four years, after which time their risk of having another cardiovascular event was also unchanged from that of people who only took a placebo.

The authors also referenced several other studies, including some in which the participants took high doses of specific vitamins, and showed an apparent increased risk of mortality as a result.

However, still other studies have indicated an undeniable benefit from multivitamin supplementation, including a 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which found a significantly lower risk of cancer in men 50 and over who took a multivitamin versus those who ingested placebos.

Whom can you trust?

With so much conflicting information circulating, perhaps the only person you can truly rely on to give you sound medical advice — that’s relevant specifically for you — is your family physician. Your own personal physiology and medical history is ultimately of greater pertinence than a broad study of thousands of people from different backgrounds and walks of life.

Just as you should consult your doctor about the various medications you’re taking, you should also keep him or her apprised of any over-the-counter supplements you try, and the possible benefits or drawbacks they may have for you based on your personal medical condition.

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