In today’s Information Age, it can be a real challenge (and headache) to rifle through all the “fake news” and “fake headlines” to get to reputable, science-backed reporting. Especially when it comes to medical news.
The most common example of medical “fake news” I’ve seen lately targeted dietary supplements. In fact, I recently came across a headline in a medical journal for physicians that reported, “No scientific proof that multivitamins promote heart health.”
Now, that headline is half-true. But for all the wrong reasons.
Let me explain…
I agree that most multivitamins are useless. But only because they typically contain inadequate doses, in the wrong forms, and in the wrong combinations.
Taking a typical multi is sort of like throwing a steering wheel, three tires, and catalytic converter into the road — and wondering why the car won’t start.
So, what’s the story behind this headline?
Fake studies breed “fake news”
This new meta-analysis on multivitamins looked at results from 18 previously published studies with more than two million participants from the U.S., Europe, and Japan.
But the kicker here is that only five of the 18 studies the researchers included in the analysis actually specified the dose and ingredients used in the multivitamin supplements. So — we have no idea what and how much was taken in 13 of the 18 studies!
It truly boggles the mind…those doses and ingredients are only the two most important factors they should’ve accounted for! And the researchers should’ve known better than to include 13 incomplete studies…
As I’ve said time and time again, meta-analyses are only as good as the studies they include. And researchers can show strong bias by simply choosing to include one or two bad studies. It’s poor practice, plain and simple. So, in this case, you’ve got a complete lemon of a study! (But without the vitamin C!)
The article, however, did mention that multis generally contain lower doses of vitamins and minerals. So, we’re on the same page there at least.
Despite this terribly designed analysis — with studies that used poor-quality dietary supplements — the data still showed a 12 percent reduction of risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) among people who took multis.
But then, instead of digging deeper into their data on this risk reduction, the researchers backpedaled yet again and chose to conduct a “subgroup analysis” — another huge research no-no. (As a graduate student, my professors repeatedly warned us about the hazards of doing subgroup analyses.)
This notoriously sketchy strategy is employed when analysis of the research as a whole doesn’t turn up the results they want. So, they start breaking it up into different subgroups to compare and cherry-pick the findings they want to highlight.
Essentially, they allow statisticians to play games with data.
The winnowing away of scientific findings
In this study’s subgroup analysis, the researchers knocked the 12 percent reduction in CHD risk I mentioned earlier down to 3 percent.
And voilà — they can now report to the press that multivitamins don’t reduce heart disease risk.
But their actual, hard data shows at least 60,000 people — and up to 240,000 people — avoided CHD by taking some sort of multivitamin. (But again, we don’t know what exactly went into the multis.)
As for strokes, the original, hard data shows people who took a multi had a 5 percent reduction in stroke risk. That means among the two million people in the study, 100,000 people avoided having a stroke because they took a multivitamin. But here again — the researchers made the real numbers go away by using statistical trickery! (Making those kinds of huge real numbers disappear would amaze David Copperfield…)
It’s rather dumbfounding…
Despite the 13 bad studies included, the unknown dosages in the multis, and the researchers’ statistical tricks, the actual hard data still showed hundreds of thousands of people benefitted from taking a multivitamin supplement!
In an editorial that accompanied this poorly designed study, the author admitted that it’s “biologically plausible” that dietary supplementation could reduce risk of heart disease.
Thousands of studies on human nutrition over several decades show that dietary supplementation is essential for achieving optimal health. Especially when you consider the known inadequacies of the contemporary diet and industrialized food sources. (The researches could have — and should have — included some of those studies in their analysis.)
Plus, we now know key nutrients help reduce chronic inflammation, a major cause of cardiovascular disease.
There are even entire books written on the heart benefits of B vitamins. Dozens of studies show the right doses of vitamin D and omega-3s/fish oil benefit the heart, as I reported in the June 2018 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter (“Why I’m upping my recommendations for this ‘controversial’ supplement”). And every day, doctors prescribe magnesium to dramatically help heart patients in hospitals around the country. Even something as simple as eating more protein can add years to your life, especially if you have heart disease, as I explained last month.
The bottom line is, it’s simply impossible to get all the nutrients you need to achieve optimal heart health in one tiny pill. Instead, you need high-quality supplements with adequate doses in the right forms and combinations. Sure, you may have to take a few more supplements each day, but the benefits will far outweigh the added effort.
Ditch your multis and supplement smarter
Here are my basic must-haves for daily supplementation:
- Vitamin D – Supplement with 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily. You can now find this dose in a convenient, highly-absorbable liquid form together with astaxanthin, a potent marine carotenoid, for added benefits. (For more information, simply type “astaxanthin” into the top right search bar of my website, www.DrMicozzi.com.)
- Fish Oil – I now recommend most people take 6 grams of fish oil daily that includes a combined dosage of 3,000 to 4,000 mg of EPA/DHA content. These are food quantities, so think of it as fish oil. (I provide more detailed recommendations in the June 2018 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. You can learn exactly how much fish oil you should be taking — which depends on your personal fish and seafood consumption — as well as how to choose a quality supplement. Don’t have a newsletter subscription? No worries — it just takes one click!)
- B vitamins – Take a high-quality B complex supplement daily. Make sure it contains at least 12 mcg of B12 and 200 mcg of folate.
And there you have it—the actual, therapeutic doses that researchers should be analyzing in their studies. Just imagine how much more they could achieve just by using some real nutritional science — and how much you can achieve by following this science yourself.
“Association of Multivitamin and Mineral Supplementation and Risk of Cardiovascular disease,” Circ. Cardiovascular Quality Outcomes (www.circoutcomes.ahajournals.org) 7/10/2018
“No Scientific Proof That Multivitamins Promote Heart Health,” Medscape (www.medscape.com) 7/102018