As a professed multivitamin-pill user I was shocked by the new studies about nutrition supplements. I am not alone. About a third of the adult population in welfare states take vitamin supplements on a regular base. The pills’ overnight Kafkaesque metamorphosis from valuable to harmful is not easy to cope with. Not only are most of the supplements virtually superfluous. They also may be a serious health risk.
“Less is more” could be the slogan of the latest nutrition-supplement studies. There has been a considerable increase of hypervitaminosis in the industrialised countries. A vitamin overdose may first seem a bad joke. However, new studies show a correlation between regular consumption of artificial vitamins and lethal diseases. According to a study that observed 40,000 women, those with regular use of multivitamin supplements more often died of cancer and heart disease. Another recent study showed that the rate of prostate cancer was 17 per cent higher among vitamin-E users.
Logically, there is a lot of hustle about the new studies. Nutrition experts in unison more or less confirm that vitamins from the box are unnecessary. Only when lacking a certain vitamin or mineral, supplements are recommended. Fortunately, science is never definite. Research results are only valid until new studies prove them wrong. One can ignore the fact that pharmaceutical companies often finance “independent” research. Since to err is human, it is only a matter of time when new studies overrule old ones.
The dilemma about trustworthy studies remains. The latest studies about the placebo effect show interesting results. That placebos work, is nothing new. Yet, fake pills work also when patients know they are placebos. The outcome seems to suggest that pills work as long as we take them. “Shamed be he who thinks evil of it”, but it would not be surprising if pill producers were behind this study true to the maxim: Stay healthy, keep consuming.
Science fails to function as a compass for the consumer. Also, popular wisdoms like “to cure a cold with medicine takes a week, without seven days” hardly offer any orientation. The good news about the new vitamin studies is, however, that even when dieting on fast food and soft drinks, undernourishment will not occur (obesity and diabetes might though). The “evil Es” like E307 and E300 for example in Coke are ascorbic acid, also known as vitamin C. Being sceptic, curious and capable of drawing own conclusions out of given information is always a reasonable approach. Eventually it is up to oneself to decide whether the glass is half empty or half full.