I’m always fascinated by how quickly the mainstream health media likes to “jump” on stories that appear to show that vitamins don’t do anything. I’ve read an awful lot of these stories, but when you dig deeper, investigate the findings and read the actual studies that the headlines are based on, a very different picture often emerges.
Here’s a typical example. A story by Virginia Sole-Smith, a journalist without a single credential in nutrition writing in Recbook magazine, advises readers to save money by skipping multivitamins. “It’s fine to finish up that bottle of vitamins”, she writes, “but there’s no reason to buy another”.
Perhaps Ms. Sole-Smith missed this recent article in the Journal Experimental Biology and Medicine. The title isn’t exactly scintillating– “Dietary amelioration of locomotor, neurotransmitter and mitochondrial aging”, — so we can forgive Ms. Sole-Smith- or anyone else- for thinking that reading this particular piece of research might not be the most exciting way to spend a Saturday. But it’s worth pointing out what the study showed.
The researchers started with the premise that one of the most reliable biomarkers of aging and mortality risk is declining physical movement. So they designed a standard animal study to see if they could come up an intervention to keep aging mice from slowing down.
They found it. A multivitamin.
It contained: Vitamin B1, Vitamin B3 (niacin), Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Chromium picolinate, Folic Acid, Coenzyme Q10, Omega-3’s from fish oil, Flaxseed oil, Vitamin E, selenium, potassium, magnesium, manganese, beta-carotene, bioflavonoids, melatonin, as well as some herbal ingredients like gingko biloba and some specialized nutrients like Alpha-lipoic acid and Acetyl-l-carnitine. (I’d like these guys to design a multi for me!)
Let’s cut to the chase: The mice that didn’t get the multivitamin lost 50% of their ability to move around freely. The mice that did lost none!
These are the kind of details that get lost in stupid mass media headlines.
Now you’d have to wade through an awful lot of really dense scientific jargon to find this information, but it’s all there in the article. “Mice fed a complex dietary supplement designed to ameliorate five mechanisms associated with aging showed no loss of total daily locomotion”, write the researchers. That “complex dietary supplement” was simply what you and I would call a multi.
I don’t know if the mice that got the multivitamin lived any longer than the ones that did. But I do know that the mice that were given the multivitamins had a much better time, aged a lot better, and were a lot healthier, moving around like young mice and showing none of the deterioration that the non-treated mice exhibited.
That sounds like a pretty good result to me!
“In man” write the researchers, “declining physical activity contributes to metabolic syndrome and in advanced years, frailty. Metabolic syndrome (high abdominal fat, insulin resistance, hypertension, arteriosclerosis and elevated free radical damage) afflicts 50% of North Americans over the age of 60. Associated risks include type ll diabetes, heart attack and cancer”.
According to the researchers, the dietary supplement they developed targeted five key mechanisms of aging: oxidative damage, inflammation, mitochondrial function, insulin resistance and membrane integrity.
Apparently, it worked.
Take that, Redbook magazine.
The moral of the story: It might be better to make your decisions about whether to take multivitamins (or any other supplements) based on research in journals like Experimental Biology and Medicine, instead of Redbook Magazine.
Just a thought.