J. Holman

(Investigator 97, 2004 July)

Once again scientific evidence emerges confirming the benefits of taking vitamin supplements.

The (Sydney) Daily Telegraph newspapers (November 10, 2003, page 70) published the following conclusions of two Harvard doctors who reviewed 30 years of research on vitamins:

1.) Most adults do not get enough vitamins from their diets and would benefit from taking multivitamins.

2.) Folic acid may decrease the risk of neural tube defects in newborns, as well as the risk of some cancers, including colorectal and breast cancers.
3.) Folic acid (folate) and vitamins B6 and B12 can cut the risk of heart disease.

4.) Vitamin E and lycopene may cut the risk of prostate cancer.

5.) Vitamin D, when taken with calcium may decrease the risk of bone fractures.

6.) Taking a multivitamin is cheaper and simpler than taking separate vitamin supplements.
 [May I add that a multivitamin must contain sufficient amount of each ingredient—vitamin and amino acid or herbal extracts—to produce the desired beneficial effect.]
7.) Doctors should monitor patients' vitamin intakes to make sure that they are getting enough vitamins, but are not taking a dangerous amount
From time to time one hears about some exponent denigrating the value of vitamin supplements or herbal products in promoting good or better health.

Such claims are usually demolished by further research. Some months ago the New York Times published a vitamin supplement-bashing article — "Vitamins: More May Be Too Many".

The article attracted much publicity in Australia too. So it was very satisfying to know there was an earlier (2002) pro-vitamins article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) which carries considerably greater authority.
The JAMA article was written by two researchers from Harvard Medical School. They reported that, according to their review of the scientific literature, vitamin supplementation is of benefit to those at risk of chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and osteoporosis. These days that covers just about everybody! In fact, the researchers came right out and said: "we recommend that all adults take one multivitamin daily."

The article was addressed to doctors, not patients. In what JAMA calls its "Patient Page", advice for doctors about what to tell their patients, the daily multivitamin advice is barely mentioned! Instead it says:
"The best way to get vitamins is from whole food—fruits, grains, vegetables, dairy products and lean meat. However, taking a daily multivitamin supplement will also ensure adequate amounts of the important vitamins."

There was an article on this topic with by Annette Dickinson, Ph.D., an expert on the benefits of vitamins and minerals and the vice-president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the Council for Responsible Nutrition (USA).

Dr. Dickinson believes that part of the reason behind the AMA's reluctance is that the "conventional medical community generally is skeptical of so-called personal intervention." The article continued, "As a result, it has historically discouraged the idea that one should take responsibility for one's own health apart from getting a physician's care." Basically, what she means is that mainstream physicians don't think it's a good idea for us to take care of ourselves, and since vitamins are one of the best ways we can do that, they don't-like-vitamins.
Paradoxically, a considerable number of Australian medicos take vitamin supplements, particularly vitamin E, B-complex and vitamin C. Some also take and recommend fish oil capsules or eating fish, such as sardines, herrings and tuna, at least three times a week.


"Vitamins for chronic disease prevention in adults: clinical applications,"
JAMA 2002; 287(23): 3, 127-3, 129.

"Patient Page: Vitamins A to K," JAMA 2002; 287 (23): 3,166.

"The AMA crosses the line," Conscious Choice, 8/02.