Debunking the Multivitamin Myth & Exploring the Benefits of Specific Supplementation

In today’s day and age, health related content marketing is constantly bombarding us. Be it by the burgeoning CBD industry claiming their oil or tincture can remedy everything from anxiety and chronic pain, to countless health supplement retailers regaling the myriad potential health benefits of their products, we are surrounded by this content on a regular basis. While there is certainly no shortage of retailers in the health and wellness sphere, how many of their claims are actually true? The reality is, hard evidence corroborating the efficacy and veracity of these claims are still lacking, especially when it comes to the notorious “multivitamin” that has been heavily marketed as being necessary for restoring and maintaining good health. This article will explore the plausible benefits (if any) of popular vitamin supplements currently being marketed; their potential risks and discusses the correct way to address nutrient and other related deficiencies through specific supplementation.

Most Adults Take Multivitamins—But Do They Really Help?

Most adults take some sort of multivitamin supplement to help benefit their overall health, but are they really reaping the benefits they think they are? With the countless variety of products in the health and vitamin aisle navigating these waters to find what supplements may actually pose genuine health benefits and which ones are solely fads can be tricky, to say the least. While evidence is still lacking on the efficacy of multivitamin supplementation in the restoration and/or maintenance of optimal health, there’s certainly no shortage in their prevalence and promotion. To gain a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t, let’s take a closer look at what the science says about the efficacy of multivitamins and their purported benefits on preventing the occurrence and progression of chronic disease.

What the Science Says about Multivitamin Supplementation

A 2013 updated review for the US Preventative Service Task Force investigated the role of vitamins and mineral supplements in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer progression. Its findings were shocking to say the least. “After reviewing 3 trials of multivitamin supplements and 24 trials of single or paired vitamins that randomly assigned more than 400,000 participants, the authors concluded that there was no clear evidence of a beneficial effect of supplements on all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, or cancer”[1,2]. So why are we as a society wasting literally billions of dollars on pills that don’t make us feel any healthier at all? The answer here lies in clever marketing schemes and the overall declining health of Americans at large.

As Chronic Illness Runs Rampant, Americans are a Vulnerable Demographic

It is no secret that chronic illness and severe health issues ranging from obesity to cardiovascular disease are running rampant in the western world. It is natural for Americans to want to do what they can to avoid these devastating illnesses and it is exactly this fear-based thinking that many multivitamin retailers are preying upon to sell their products. The crux of the issue lies in the fact that their products are not backed and endorsed by the FDA and thus, is not required to undergo the rigorous screening process that pharmaceuticals are. As such, it can be tricky and potentially even treacherous treading these waters without the proper knowledge and a healthy sense of skepticism about the health-based marketing you’re exposed to.

Targeting Nutrient Deficiencies and Specific Supplementation Works if

Luckily, there is concrete evidence on specific supplementation to address specific nutritional deficiencies and pathologies. In this article, we will briefly discuss two primary examples of specific supplementation.

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The Powerful Anti-Inflammatory Effect in the Ancient Indian Spice: Turmeric

One supplement that is currently being actively researched and touted for it’s powerfully medicinal properties is the Indian spice turmeric! It contains a major source of the polyphenol curcumin. A 2017 scientific review makes the following claims: “It [curcumin] aids in the management of oxidative and inflammatory conditions, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, anxiety, and hyperlipidemia. It may also help in the management of exercise-induced inflammation and muscle soreness, thus enhancing recovery and performance in active people…”[3]. Interestingly enough, while these powerful health benefits of curcumin have been established in clinical literature, many multivitamin formulas do not contain any curcumin at all! Perhaps of equal importance is the fact that the bioavailability of curcumin is incredibly poor when taken orally. However, it’s been found that when consumed with black pepper, the active chemical piperine found in black pepper, helps increase curcumin's oral bioavailability by 2000% [3]. Piperine is a known “enhancing agent” of curcumin and their combination has several clinically documented benefits in peer-reviewed literature, mainly stemming from the potent anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin.

The Neurological and Digestive Benefits of Magnesium Supplementation

Scientific literature provides widespread evidence of magnesium deficiency in a wide variety of pathologies and disease states. A 2017 review states the following regarding the efficacy of magnesium: “Magnesium is an essential element required as a cofactor for over 300 enzymatic reactions and is thus necessary for the biochemical functioning of numerous metabolic pathways” [4]. The medical management of constipation, for instance, indicates the utility of magnesium supplementation [5]. This is a perfect example of specific supplementation! Not everyone suffers from constipation, thus, not everyone will benefit from or truly needs magnesium supplementation. However, this could be exactly what someone with reduced GI motility needs to feel better.

Adaptogenic Herbs: The Medicinal Mushrooms

Elements of Chinese medicine have begun to spring back into the modern pharmacopoeia for a variety of interesting reasons. One of the most well known adaptogenic mushrooms is Lion’s Mane and is used for its profound neurotrophic properties that aid in the growth and differentiation of neurons [6]. Also known as Hericium erinaceus, Lion’s Mane is an “edible and medicinal mushroom with potential neuroprotective effects” [7]. A recent 2018 study in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms found that “oral supplementation with H. Erinaceus yields specific and selective improvements in recognition memory without altering spatial working memory, which supports the hypothesis that recognition memory can be modeled as a dual process” [7].

Another mushroom that’s gained significant attention is Cordyceps Sinesis due to its invigorating and energetic properties. It is unique in that the main compound is derived from a fungus that feasts on a caterpillar at very high altitudes [8,9]. While you won’t find these in your average multivitamin, they are certainly worth investigating and have solid, peer-reviewed research backing their use.

There Is No “One Size Fits All” Treatment for Everyone

Just as there is no standard diet that is advocated as the “best” or “healthiest” diet for everyone, there is no single multivitamin that can cover everyone’s needs with a single formula. We are all human beings that vary widely in our status of health and well being. It is important to take this into account when considering supplementing your diet and nutrient protocol with exogenous supplements. What the evidence does show is that on the whole, multivitamins are at best, pretty useless and at worst, potentially harmful. If you feel you are lacking in certain supplements, for instance, magnesium, then seek the advice of a medical professional and try specific supplementation to help achieve your health-based goals!

References

1. Christen, W. G. et al. Effects of Multivitamin Supplement on Cataract and Age-Related Macular Degeneration in a Randomized Trial of Male Physicians. Ophthalmology 121, 525–534 (2014).

2. Guallar, E., Stranges, S., Mulrow, C., Appel, L. J. & Miller, E. R. Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements. Ann. Intern. Med. 159, 850–851 (2013).

3. Hewlings, S. J. & Kalman, D. S. Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health. Foods 6, (2017).

4. Schwalfenberg, G. K. & Genuis, S. J. The Importance of Magnesium in Clinical Healthcare. Scientifica 2017, (2017).

5. Portalatin, M. & Winstead, N. Medical Management of Constipation. Clin. Colon Rectal Surg. 25, 12–19 (2012).

6. Lai, P.-L. et al. Neurotrophic properties of the Lion’s mane medicinal mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia. Int. J. Med. Mushrooms 15, 539–554 (2013).

7. Rossi, P. et al. Dietary Supplementation of Lion’s Mane Medicinal Mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Agaricomycetes), and Spatial Memory in Wild-Type Mice. Int. J. Med. Mushrooms 20, 485–494 (2018).

8. Tuli, H. S., Sandhu, S. S. & Sharma, A. K. Pharmacological and therapeutic potential of Cordyceps with special reference to Cordycepin. 3 Biotech 4, 1–12 (2014).

ScienceGaurav DubeyComment