Do multivitamins make you healthier?

Some experts say it's time to give up on daily multivitamins to preserve health, but others disagree. What should you do?

If you take a multivitamin, it's probably because you want to do everything you can to protect your health. But there is still limited evidence that a daily cocktail of essential vitamins and minerals actually delivers what you expect. The latest round of studies, published in December in Annals of Internal Medicine, found no benefit from multivitamins in protecting the brain or heart. But some Harvard experts think there is still hope.

"There are potential benefits and there are no known risks at this time," says Dr. Howard Sesso, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. "It is worth considering a multivitamin as part of a healthy lifestyle."

In contrast, an editorial published alongside the multivitamin studies urged consumers to "stop wasting money on vitamin and mineral supplements."

Caught between expert opinions, what do you do? Start with asking yourself why you would consider taking a multivitamin. If you suspect your diet is nutritionally lax, focus your efforts there.


What we know so far

Despite all the research on vitamins and health, we have only a handful of rigorous scientific studies on the benefits of what Dr. Sesso calls a "true" multivitamin: a pill that provides essential vitamins and minerals at the relatively low levels that the body normally requires.

The Physicians' Health Study II is the best study completed so far. It was the first and only large-scale randomized clinical trial to test a commonly taken multivitamin like the ones most people take, containing the daily requirements of 31 vitamins and minerals essential for good health.

A large group of male physicians took either a multivitamin or a placebo pill for more than a decade. The results have been mixed, with modest reductions in cancer and cataracts, but no protective effect against cardiovascular disease or declining mental function. Is it safe?

Multivitamin advocates point to the lack of any strong proof that taking a multivitamin for many years is dangerous. But Dr. Eliseo Guallar, one of those who panned multivitamins in the Annals editorial, emphasizes that lack of evidence that multivitamins are harmful doesn't mean they're safe. We simply don't know.

"While I agree that the likelihood of harm is small, the likelihood of a clear health benefit is also very small—and also we have no clear proof yet of such benefit," says Dr. Guallar, a scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Dr. Sesso speaks for the optimists, who urge a wait-and-see approach. "Multivitamin supplementation is low risk and low cost, and it helps to fill potential gaps in the diet that people might have," Dr. Sesso says. "These are compelling reasons to consider taking a multivitamin for cancer and eye disease that should be discussed with your physician."

For now, you can take certain steps:

  • Ask your doctor if you really need to take a multivitamin. Could you have a vitamin deficiency?
  • Assess your diet. Do you eat as healthy as you could? Is anything lacking?
  • Do you want expert nutritional advice? See a dietician. Also, Medicare beneficiaries get an annual "wellness" visit with their primary care providers.

Do not take high doses of specific vitamins, especially A and E. These may actually be harmful. Some research suggests that generous daily doses of vitamin D could be helpful.

What does the evidence say?

Physicians' Health Study II

Researchers looked at the effect of long-term multivitamin use in healthy men on various aspects of health. Here is what they found:

  • Cancer: Men were 8% less likely to be diagnosed with cancer. The protective effect was greatest in men with a history of cancer.
  • Vision: Lower risk of developing cataracts.
  • Cardiovascular disease: No protection against heart attacks, strokes, or death from cardiovascular disease.
  • Brain: No protection against declining memory or mental skills.

Caveat: Because of PHSII's design, the findings on memory loss and vision are somewhat more likely to be chance findings than the cancer and cardiovascular disease results.

Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy

The study tested a therapy for artery blockages (chelation) in people with a previous heart attack; it also included a vitamin supplement. The trial found no evidence of benefit from taking the supplement.

Caveat: Participants did not take a typical multivitamin, with a variety of essential nutrients in varying doses. It's possible that taking a standard multivitamin might have worked better, but there is no evidence to suggest that might be the case.



Eat Nuts, Live Longer

About a week ago, I wrote an article ("Nuts to You"). In this article, I mentioned that the New England Journal of Medicine indicated (via the Harvard School of Public Health) that nuts might improve your health. Here's a bit more about the study.

The New England Journal of Medicine has suggested that eating nuts has been associated with a reduced risk of major chronic diseases. They ran a study of almost 120,000 adults -- about 64% were female. The study nutstook place over a 25 year period. During the study, about 27,000 (or 23%) of the population died. They noted that there was a significant inverse associations between nut consumption and deaths due to cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease from their population. That suggests that those who did not eat nuts were considerably more likely to have died than those who did eat nuts.

Vegans and everyone else ought to be consuming nuts on a regular basis.

Here's the abstract:


Increased nut consumption has been associated with a reduced risk of major chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes mellitus. However, the association between nut consumption and mortality remains unclear.


We examined the association between nut consumption and subsequent total and cause-specific mortality among 76,464 women in the Nurses' Health Study (1980–2010) and 42,498 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (1986–2010). Participants with a history of cancer, heart disease, or stroke were excluded. Nut consumption was assessed at baseline and updated every 2 to 4 years.


During 3,038,853 person-years of follow-up, 16,200 women and 11,229 men died. Nut consumption was inversely associated with total mortality among both women and men, after adjustment for other known or suspected risk factors. The pooled multivariate hazard ratios for death among participants who ate nuts, as compared with those who did not, were 0.93 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.90 to 0.96) for the consumption of nuts less than once per week, 0.89 (95% CI, 0.86 to 0.93) for once per week, 0.87 (95% CI, 0.83 to 0.90) for two to four times per week, 0.85 (95% CI, 0.79 to 0.91) for five or six times per week, and 0.80 (95% CI, 0.73 to 0.86) for seven or more times per week (P<0.001 for trend). Significant inverse associations were also observed between nut consumption and deaths due to cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease.


In two large, independent cohorts of nurses and other health professionals, the frequency of nut consumption was inversely associated with total and cause-specific mortality, independently of other predictors of death. (Funded by the National Institutes of Health and the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research and Education Foundation.)


Cancer Increasing Among Meat Eaters

Cancer increasing among meat eaters. This sounds like it would be a headline today. However, that was the headline of an article in a September 1907 edition of New York Times. The link between meat and cancer has been known for more than a century. Dr. Neil Barnard of recently wrote an article recently discussing this topic.  We have read several of his books. We highly recommend them. (Find them here:

Here's his article:

In a recent NPR debate about the risks of meat-eating, I put forward the proposition that meat causes cancer. Judging by faces in the audience, this was a new idea. While everyone understands the link between cancer and cigarettes, the link with meat has somehow escaped notice.

I cited two enormous studies—the 2009 NIH-AARP study, with half a million participants, and a 2012 Harvard study with 120,000 participants. In both studies, meat-eaters were at higher risk of a cancer death, and many more studies have shown the same thing.

How does meat cause cancer? It could be the heterocyclic amines—carcinogens that form as meat is cooked. It could also be the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or the heme iron in meat, or perhaps its lack of fiber and paucity of antioxidants. But really the situation is like tobacco. We know tobacco causes lung cancer, even though no one yet knows exactly which part of the tobacco smoke is the major culprit. And although meat-eaters clearly have higher cancer rates, it is not yet clear which part of meat does the deed.

The tragedy is this: The link between meat and cancer has been known for more than a century. On September 24, 1907, the New York Times published an article entitled “Cancer Increasing among Meat Eaters,” which described a seven-year epidemiological study showing that meat-eaters were at high cancer risk, compared with those choosing other staples. Focusing especially on immigrants who had abandoned traditional, largely planted-based, diets in favor of meatier fare in the U.S., the lead researcher said, “There cannot be the slightest question that the great increase in cancer among the foreign-born over the prevalence of that disease in their native countries is due to the increased consumption of animal foods….”

Over the past century, meat eating in America has soared, as have cancer statistics. USDA figures show that meat eating rose from 123.9 pounds of meat per person per year in 1909 to 201.5 pounds in 2004.

The good news is that many have woken up and smelled the carcinogens. They know there is plenty of protein in beans, grains, and vegetables, and that traditional Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Japanese foods—and endless other cuisines—turn these plant-based staples into delicious and nourishing meals. Meat eating has fallen about one percent every year since 2004.

If you haven’t yet kicked the habit, the New Year is the perfect time to do it. We’ve got you covered with our Kickstart programs, books, DVDs, and everything else you’ll ever need. Let’s not wait another hundred years.


Neal Barnard, M.D.

Dr neil barnardNeal D. Barnard, M.D., is a nutrition researcher, author, and health advocate. As an adjunct associate professor of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine, Dr. Barnard conducts studies on the role of nutrition in diabetes, obesity, and lipid management, among other health issues. His most recent clinical trial, funded by the National Institutes of Health, established the value of a novel dietary program for type 2 diabetes and set a new standard for dietary approaches to this increasingly common condition.

source:, NY Times

Are Multivitamins a Waste of Money? Doctors at Johns Hopkins Chime In…

Are vitamins and other supplement superfluous? There have been many reports in recent years suggesting that supplements might not be necessary.

Here's what doctors at Johns Hopkins said recently: “There used to be this belief that they might not be beneficial, but they’re certainly not harmful. Well, that idea has been dispelled... Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided... There’s really no evidence of benefit, and there is evidence of harm. Our recommendation is don’t waste your money...”

The article below details this. It suggests that everyone needs to make good nutritional decisions. Many people want to believe that a multi-vitamin can correct their poor diet choices.

That's about multi-vitamns, what about other supplements? For vegans, a B12 supplement is definitely worth considering. (DISCLAIMER: Reminder, I'm neither a doctor, nor do I play one on TV...)

Here's the entire article:


The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and several distinguished professors from The Johns Hopkins University have spoken—and what they’re saying about vitamins may surprise you.
Estimates are that more than half of American adults currently take at least one dietary supplement. About 28 billion dollars are spent on multivitamins each year. While dietary supplements are clearly helpful for patients with certain digestive diseases, or for pregnant women, the question we will tackle here: are they helpful for everyone?
The majority of people taking supplements are already adequately meeting their nutrient demands, and are thus experimenting with the effects of increased levels of minerals and vitamins.
What is troubling is that many studies over the last couple of decades suggest that very high levels of certain vitamins put some individuals at increased risk of disease and mortality.

Studies show cause for concern on taking vitamins 

In 1994, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that people who are already at risk for lung cancer had a much greater likelihood of suffering from lung cancer or heart disease when taking daily beta-carotene supplements.
Two years later, in the same prestigious journal, researchers hoped to delve a little deeper. But their work was cut short when they found the risk of death from lung cancer in susceptible patients was 46 percent higher for those taking both vitamin A and beta-carotene. Upon this discovery, the research trial was stopped.
In 2004, a study that sought to show that individuals treated with Vitamins A, C, E, and beta-carotene have less intestinal cancers actually showed something much worse – increased rates of mortality!
Almost 20 years later, the USPSTF is reaffirming these messages to ensure the safety of individuals who believe indiscriminate vitamin supplementation will help prevent cancer or chronic disease.

What are Johns Hopkins experts saying?

Recently, Dr. Larry Appel and Dr. Edgar Miller published an editorial in Annals of Internal Medicine thoroughly denouncing the widespread use of a daily multivitamin. “There used to be this belief that they might not be beneficial, but they’re certainly not harmful. Well, that idea has been dispelled,” commented Dr. Appel in Inside Hopkins. "Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided."
“There’s really no evidence of benefit, and there is evidence of harm. Our recommendation is don’t waste your money,” commented Dr. Miller.
These Johns Hopkins experts want to stress to consumers that the ongoing clinical trials, which are being done to solidify the “small benefits” many claim are associated with supplementation, are not truly capable of identifying the so-called “small effects.”
So don’t hold your breath waiting for more data to prove this point. Dr. Appel and Dr. Miller are confident that the current case on vitamin supplementation is “closed.”

A perfect example of the problem: Vitamin E supplementation

Take this example to heart. Vitamin E, known for its antioxidant functions, has proven harmful as a supplement in many studies during the past decade. In 2005, a summary of 19 different clinical research trials showed that taking vitamin E supplements actually increased the risk of dying. Also, in a similar study of patients with vascular disease and diabetes, Vitamin E increased the risk of heart failure. Most recently, a study linked vitamin E supplementation to increased risk of prostate cancer.

Here’s what you should know…

The key message here is that we need to choose our diets wisely to ensure that our bodies are already receiving necessary nutrients. Many people want to believe that a multi-vitamin can “make up” for poor diet choices. But we now know that for the vast majority of people this is not the case!

And while it’s probably true that not all vitamins are harmful, they are definitely not meaningfully helpful to most people.
The USPSTF does not have enough data to comment on all individual vitamins. However, they can claim with moderate certainty that vitamin E and beta-carotene are not helpful, and that beta-carotene likely increases the risk of lung cancer in at risk individuals. Do you want to take the risk with large doses of the other less tested vitamins?
In my view, the main problem is that people want the easy fix. It is hard to exercise and to eat right – but at least we know that these work!

source: Yahoo Health

It’s Resolution Time Again

A recent Harris Poll indicated that 47% of Americans plan to reduce their consumption of animal products. The USDA estimates that consumption of chicken, beef, pigs, and turkeys will decrease as well. Clearly, people are eating less meat. How about dairy? Milk consumption has dropped by a 40% since it peaked back in 1970.

In the past few years, many people have been adopting a Meatless Monday campaign; trying to lower their meat consumption for improved health. And we all know that during the month of January, many people set resolutions. Typically they want to improve their lives in some way: quit smoking; lose weight; save more money; get healthier, etc. The meatless Monday trend aims to decrease meat consumption so as to stave off obesity, heart disease, cancer, and many other lifestyle diseases.

The American Institute of Cancer Research Annual Conference on Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer offers these incentives:

  • If Americans consumed eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, we would reduce our cancer risk by 20%.
  • By reducing processed food and red meat in our diets and boosting exercise, we can eliminate as much as two-thirds of all cancers.

If you resolved to lose weight for the New Year, vegan and vegetarian diets also can boost weight loss, according to Health Line. A study showed that vegans and vegetarians lost more weight than omnivores, and kept it off for more than six months. Of course, a "potato chip vegan" can probably kiss that weight loss goodbye...


Kale Smoothie Issues?

kale smoothieI have a protein shake with kale every day. Check out this article, an opinion from the NY Times:

I was into health food before it was cool. There were only two other people I knew who frequented my neighborhood health food store in the late ’80s: an emaciated man with a gray ponytail and a woman with a surprising amount of underarm hair, who smelled of B.O. and patchouli.

The floor there was crowded with bins filled with grains, granola and dried tiger’s milk. And on a small shelf in back was a smattering of organic produce: tiny apples with black spots and a couple of balls of spinach so caked in dirt you had to wash each leaf separately and check for worms.

But sometime in the mid-’90s, everyone who made fun of me for being a health nut was suddenly calling for advice. Which was better, organic or local? How did I germinate sprouts? Even my grandmother, who thought I was going to die when I gave up meat as a teenager, wanted my recipe for mock chicken soup.

And now, in the Whole Foods era, as I push my shopping cart down spacious aisles stocked with nonprocessed, gluten-free, non-G.M.O., heirloom, grass-fed, free-range and artisanal goods, I am pleased to know that I was ahead of my time.

Imagine my shock, then, at my last physical, when my doctor told me I had hypothyroidism, common in women over 40. When I got home I looked up the condition on the Internet and found a list of foods to avoid. Kale, which I juiced every morning, tops the list, followed by broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and collard greens — the cruciferous vegetables I consumed in large quantities because they are thought to prevent cancer, which runs in my family. And flax — as in the seeds — high in omega 3’s, that I sprinkled on cereal and blended in strawberry almond milk smoothies. Also forbidden: almonds and strawberries, not to mention soy, peaches, peanuts, corn, radishes, rutabaga and spinach..

“You’d be better off with chocolate and cola,” he said. Apparently the natural sugars in fruit and vegetable juices can cause decay, and lemon, though high in vitamin C and bioflavonoids which may prevent cancer, had eroded the enamel that protected my teeth.

I argued that I always brushed afterward. “Worst thing you can do,” he said. “That’s when the teeth are most vulnerable. Always wait half an hour after eating or drinking anything before brushing your teeth. And don’t brush more than twice daily. You’re destroying what little enamel you have left.”

I thought he might collapse when he asked what toothpaste I used and I said non-fluoride brands from the health food store. He steadied himself on the arm of the dental chair and let out a long sigh before sending me home with a prescription for an extra-strength fluoride toothpaste, which I had no intention of filling because I was worried that fluoride, even in the smaller concentrations permitted in over-the-counter brands, might be harmful.

But by the time I got off the bus in front of the Walgreens by my apartment, I had changed my mind. I bought the toothpaste. You never know what you’ll do when you’re scared. I’d read “The Cancer Prevention Diet” by Michio Kushi, who brought macrobiotics to the United States in the ’60s. In the book, he presents numerous case studies of cancer patients who refused Western treatment and healed naturally, through macrobiotics. But when he was told he had cancer himself, he went under the knife.

I got home and looked up my new toothpaste on the Internet. There I read that fluoride is linked to hypothyroidism. In fact, it’s been used as a medication for hyperthyroid patients, who have the condition opposite to mine.

Which should I choose? My thyroid or my teeth? I suppose in the long run my thyroid is more important, though the image of my grandmother’s dentures soaking in cup of water flashed through my mind.

I considered my dilemma as I opened the fridge and took out the milk my husband puts in his coffee. Not soy, rice or almond milk — but dairy, from a cow. And then I remembered the box of Twinkies my husband had bought — not to eat, but because they were being discontinued and might be valuable one day. It was on a shelf in the hall closet, behind the old typewriter, the dial phone and his stamp collection. Carefully, with a kitchen knife, I removed the top and admired the perfect cakes of my childhood, side by side in their individual cellophane covers, like little sleeping bags. I tore the first one open.


Vegan Diet Provides Significant Health Benefits

vegan diabetic dietIf you readIt appears that there is significant scientific evidence to sho that a vegan diet is more effective at combating Type-2 diabetes than the typical oral medications prescribed today. As Type-2 diabetes seems to be one of the most rapidly growing diseases today, .... a vegan diet bears looking at.

ABC News: Vegan diet reverses diabetes symptoms

Mayo Clinic: Could switching to a vegan diet cure my diabetes?

Fox News: Vegan diet may reduce the need for type 2 medications

Diabetes in Control: Vegan diet reverses diabetes symptoms


Food, Inc. Review

Jane and I went to see Food, Inc. this weekend.  It has a limited release, so if you are interested in seeing this film here is a list of its scheduled showings.  (If you are in the Los Angeles area, it is playing at the NuArt in Santa Monica through Thursday, and will be at the Landmark in West LA starting the 19th.)

UPDATE: CLICK HERE to reserve your very own copy of Food, Inc. now:

Since we went vegan, we've been doing a lot of reading about food.  Sometimes it feels like all we do is talk about food: the way we eat, what we eat, why we changed our diet, where we get our protein, etc.  So much of the information presented in this film was familiar to us, but still, it was a worthwhile experience.  And some of the things we learned were truly shocking to us.  For instance, there are laws in place in 13 states which protect food manufacturers from people making "disparaging comments" about their food products.  Manufacturers are allowed to sue under libel laws.  Colorado takes things even further by making veggie libel a criminal rather than civil offense.  Frightening!  I guess I'm just a little naïve here, but I would expect my government to protect me against the big corporations.

Robert Kennar does a good job touching on most aspects of the food industry.  For example, the movie starts out by pointing out that the average supermarket sells 47,000 items but this is truly an illusion of diversity since 90% of the items contain corn and/or soy products, and there are only a few companies at the top level that manage agri-business in the United States.  One farmer comments that the farmer's decision making process has been outsourced to the corporate boardroom.  It's all about the bottom line, as opposed to good stewardship of the earth or animals.

Kennar takes you through a tour of what farming means today in America.  And here we were feeling all good about ourselves for being vegan.  What this movie says Monsanto does to the soy farmers makes me want to give up tofu entirely. Monsanto, the manufacturers of Round-Up, have modified and patented "Round-Up" ready soybeans.  As of 2006 90% of the soybeans produced in the US carry that gene.  Monsanto aggressively protects their patent going so far as to prosecute farmer's who's crops have been cross-pollinated by neighboring farms.  The people who were interviewed claim to have been persecuted by Monsanto, these include "seed cleaners" - Seed cleaners allow farmers to clean and store the seed from their fields to be replanted.  The reason is that, according to patent laws, Monsanto owns the seeds since they own the genetically modified gene.  Yikes!  If you're interested in learning more about Monsanto, check out this video:  The World According to Monsanto.  (Here's a link if you'd like to buy The World According to Monsanto.)

The CEO of Stonyfield Farm, Gary Hirshberg, talks about how many of the eco-conscious companies are now owned by mega conglomerates.  Tom's toothpaste is now owned by Colgate.  Stonyfield is now owned by Groupe-Danone (that's Dannon to you and me). He also defends Stonyfield's decision to sell their organic yogurt to Wal Mart by pointing out that the positive pesticide impact can be measured in tons rather than pounds. So while many people decry Wal Mart as the evil empire, Hirshberg points to the environmental impact, and the fact that this allows more people access to organic foods at a lower price.

Although we don't expect this movie to be as successful as Super Size Me," Morgan Spurlock's McDonald's expose, we hope it will get some additional exposure.  This message really needs to get out to the general population.

The movie doesn't touch on veganism at all, which was kind of surprising to me.  I guess they were concerned their movie might be played in one of the 13 states with veggie libel laws.  There is some exposure to CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations).  However, the "natural" farmer's method of slaughtering chickens didn't appear all that humane to me or Jane.

We give the movie two thumbs up.  See it if you have any interest in food.

For Further Information:

And there are plenty of interesting videos on YouTube.

Fight Cancer – Eat Vegan

american institute for cancer researchThe American Institute for Cancer Research states:

Scientists estimate that if everyone ate a healthy diet, was physically active every day and maintained a healthy weight, the number of cancer cases would be reduced by about one-third.

Their recommendations for the prevention of cancer include the following:

Recently the National Cancer Institute published a study in the Public Library of Science showing a link between eating red meat and a statistically higher risk of certain cancers at multiple sites including: lung, liver, esophogus. The researchers in the study stated "Statistically significant elevated risks (ranging from 20 percent to 60 percent) were evident for esophageal, colorectal, liver, and lung cancer, comparing individuals in the highest with those in the lowest quintile of red meat intake."  (See Public Library of Science - Study of Meat Intake in Relation to Cancer Risk)

For further reading:

Vegans and Omega-3s

flax-seed-oil-160x240You've probably heard that eating fish, especially oily fish (Salmon, etc.) helps improve your brain function and decreases the risk of dementia.  This is one of the things that gets pointed out to us frequently when we tell people we are vegan.  Our doctor, as a practice, recommends an overall vitamin supplement, baby aspirin, and fish oil for all his patients over 40.  Since we're vegans, we skip the fish oil and take a flaxseed supplement instead.  (You should consult your nutritionist for advice on what supplements may be right for you.)

Data from a trial of more than 800 older people initially showed that those who eat plenty of oily fish seem to have better cognitive function.  But factors such as education and mood explained most of the link.

Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, said: "One of the best ways to reduce your risk of dementia is by eating a Mediterranean diet rich in fruit, vegetables, grains, fish and poultry.  "However, we still do not know which components of this sort of diet help the most.

~ Source:  BBC News

So, the jury is still out on fish oil.  We'll be watching to see what the data shows in the next round of testing.  Until then, there is no reason to consider looking to fish to improve your brain power in your later years.

Thanks to Gary at for pointing us to this study.