Why Taking an RDA Multivitamin Won’t Save Your Life

A recent study analysed the risk, over an average of eight years, of developing, or dying from cancer or heart disease in post-menopausal women taking, or not taking multivitamins. Roughly 40% had taken a multivitamin, presumably based on RDA levels, while 60% had not. Overall, there was no significant difference in risk – no evidence of harm or benefit. What the summary of the study didn’t point out is that a small group also took what the researchers described as ‘stress multisupplements’ with higher doses (often above 200% of RDA) of several B vitamins, often including large doses of vitamin C or selected minerals, such as selenium or zinc. This group had a 25% decreased risk of having a heart attack.

This study suggests, in post-menopausal women, that simply taking a low dose, RDA based supplement isn’t going to make any difference to cancer or cardiovascular risk. It also suggests that higher doses might significantly reduce heart attack risk. I have always advocated an ‘optimum nutrition’ approach, meaning the combination of diet and lifestyle change and appropriate, personalised high doses of specific nutrients, dependent on individual assessment. This combined, and personalised approach can’t be tested in a conventional randomised, placebo-controlled trial, but it can be tested in other ways. This is an example of a ‘systems-based’ approach to health, that, instead of searching for a magic bullet, be it a drug or supplement, aims to identify the key factors that influence a person’s health, and to optimise these fundamental influences with the aim of promoting their wellbeing and increasing their resilience, hence preventing a person from tipping over into a disease state.

My on-line 100% Health Programme is based on these ‘ systems-based’ principles, discussed more fully in the next (March) issue of the 100% Health newsletter, and will, in due course, start to provide the kind of data, tracking people’s health changes over time in relation to changes in diet, lifestyle and supplementation, to enable research. This project began in 1998 and, since then, we have collected data on close to 60,000 people. In 2004 we analysed the results of the first 37,000 people’s questionnaires in the ONUK Survey, which helped to further inform us about what ‘optimum nutrition’ might be. At the moment we are in the process of analysing all data collected to date, aiming for publication towards the end of the year. I’ll let you know what we find. If you’d like to become part of this on-going research complete your own 100% Health Programme questionnaire on-line.