Big pharma brings you nutrition “news” from the 19th century

Big pharma is at it again. 

In a recent article for the consumer version of the Merck Manual, a doctor happily reports that vitamin deficiency is rare in the U.S. today. 

This seems inexplicable until you realize how Merck defines this “deficiency.” Believe it or not, it involves diseases such as beriberi, kwashiorkor, pellagra, rickets, and scurvy.

If you’ve never heard of some of these diseases, it’s because they’ve been virtually nonexistent in the U.S. for more than 100 years. They resulted from abysmally low vitamin levels—so low, they caused their own specific nutritional “deficiency” diseases during the 19th century.  

But here in the 21st century, Merck completely ignores the decades of mounting evidence regarding the “sufficient” or optimal levels of vitamins necessary to prevent and reverse the chronic diseases common today.  

Of course, Merck is not alone. The woefully low U.S. RDAs for vitamins are also designed to prevent outdated 19th century vitamin deficiencies, instead of the widespread insufficiencies of today.

So few words…so much misinformation

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that vitamin deficiencies aren’t the only thing big pharma gets wrong when it comes to the latest nutritional science. In one short article, Merck manages to propagate the following questionable and flat-out dangerous myths.¹

1.  The myth of vitamins and illness. 

As evidence of vitamins’ so-called “ineffectiveness,” Merck cleverly slips in this misleading statement: “Vitamins have not been shown to have an impact on most short-term illnesses.” 

As you know, the nature of vitamins and other nutritional supplements is that they impact your health more gradually than drugs. You need to give them at least two to three months to reach their full effectiveness. So, of course, that could not apply to “most short-term illnesses,” by definition.

But then again, we have the examples of honey, echinacea, elderberry, ginger, goldenseal, turmeric, vitamin C, and zinc—all of which have been shown in studies to reduce the intensity and duration of a cold or flu when taken immediately after you experience your first symptoms.  

And that’s just one example of the quick impact nutritional supplements can have on various “short-term” health conditions. 

For instance, powdered blueberry supplements have been shown to immediately improve short-term memory—as well as produce long-term cognitive benefits. 

2. The myth of inflammation. 

Merck is also confused about inflammation, saying it’s always a “good thing.” Say, what?

This is true when it comes to acute inflammation, which helps heal acute injury. But Merck’s “expert” ignores all of the evidence about chronic inflammation’s primary roles in deadly health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, some cancers, and on and on.

This allows Merck to conveniently dismiss the reams of research linking chronic inflammation to insufficient levels of vitamins B and D. 

3. The myth of balanced diets. 

Merck is half right about recommending a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. But they overlook convincing evidence showing that a healthy diet should minimize grains and other refined carbohydrates. 

They are correct in pointing out that vegans typically require more B and D vitamin supplements, due to the lack of vitamin-rich dairy and meat in their diets. 

4. The myth of calcium supplements. 

It’s inexplicable to me that despite the rapidly growing evidence, Merck’s doctor and others continue to recommend calcium supplements, which may contribute to hardening of the arteries and other dangerous health conditions.

Ironically, many mainstream doctors have been quick to push the two supplements that are truly dangerous—calcium and iron—while discounting all of the others that people really do need to take.

The two things big pharma (surprisingly) got right

Of course, I must give credit where credit is due. 

The Merck Manual article does correctly state that daily multivitamin pills are useless. Instead, I always recommend you take key nutrients individually or in concentrated forms of combination supplements (such as powdered drink mixes or liquids), which enable you to receive larger, more effective doses of what you actually need.

The article also correctly points out that we need more vitamins as we get older. Particularly vitamin D. As we age, our skin is less able to make sufficient quantities of this vital nutrient, which is why I recommend taking 10,000 IU of D3 in supplement form every day. 

But overall, the Merck doctors seem to think it’s fine to patronize us like kindergarten students when it comes to their formulaic and outdated recommendations regarding vitamins and other nutritional supplements.

In fact, ignoring the 21st century epidemic of vitamin insufficiency makes it seem like the last time these doctors studied nutritional science was when they were actually in kindergarten themselves… using data from the 19th century.



1 “Striking the Right Balance with Vitamins: 5 Things You Should Know—Commentary.” 2017 August 21. Merck Manual. Merck Sharp and Dohme Corp. Retrieved from: