According to a new report in the well-known medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine, a group of medical experts conclude that the vast majority of supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, and worse, a few may even be harmful to well-nourished adults.
Routine use of multivitamins not justified
The authors of the editorial report argue that the routine use of multivitamins or mineral supplements is not justified for most people, and these products should generally be avoided. The report continues, "This message is especially true for the general population with no clear evidence of micronutrient deficiencies, who represent most supplement users in the United States and in other countries."
One of the authors of the report, Dr. Edgar Miller, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, MD, said in an interview that the majority of people would be better off using the money they spend on supplements on healthy foods, including "fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, low-fat dairy," and getting more exercise.
It should be mentioned that a variety of nutritional supplements are of proven medical benefit to older people and many people with specific health or nutrition problems.
Multivitamin industry growing fast in the U.S.
The editorial also highlighted how the rate of multivitamin use among US adults grew from 30% between 1988 and 1994 to 39% between 2003 and 2006. During this period, the overall use of dietary supplements among Americans grew from 42% to 53% of the population. The authors also pointed out that supplement growth trends were similar in European countries.
The supplement industry surpassed $28 billion a year in total revenues in 2010, and gross sales are likely north of $30 billion today.
Negative media coverage leads to reductions in supplement use
One point of interest and potential ray of light regarding the entire supplement issue is that consumers do seem to react when there is news regarding a specific supplement -- that is, rates of consumption of that supplement decline significantly after news that consumption of a particular supplement could be harmful. The authors point to the recent cases of Vitamin E and beta carotene as informative examples.
Supplement industry reaction
The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), a group that represents the supplement industry, and other supplement industry organizations reject the report as unrealistic.
The critics argue that simply saying people should concentrate on eating a healthy diet and exercising is a "fantasy" that doesn't recognize "real life."
Steve Mister, the President and CEO of CRN, says, "The editorial demonstrates a close-minded, one-sided approach that attempts to dismiss even the proven benefits of vitamins and minerals. It's a shame for consumers that the authors refuse to recognize the real-life need for vitamin and mineral supplementation, living in a fairy-tale world that makes the inaccurate assumption that we're all eating healthy diets and getting everything we need from food alone."