The past few months have not been good for the supplement industry. Since April, three research articles and one review have been published that failed to prove a beneficial effect of certain vitamin and mineral supplements:
This seven-year study examined cancer rates in women who took high doses of vitamins B6, B12, and Folic Acid. The study showed that there were no difference in cancer rates, breast cancer rates, or death from cancer in women who took the vitamin supplements.
A Cochrane Database review last spring found that high doses of supplements of beta carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E did not prolong life or affect chronic disease. In fact, they may actually shorten life. Furthermore, vitamin C and selenium supplements had no effect on health status.
Two more studies indicate that vitamin E, vitamin C, and selenium do not offer cancer protection in men and may increase cancer and diabetes risk.
In contrast to these studies, a study last year indicated that women who got more calcium and vitamin d from foods had a one-third reduced risk of developing premenopausal breast cancer.
What do we know about vitamins?
1. The best source of vitamins exists in foods. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, dairy and animal foods contain a plethora of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phyto-nutrients, all working together in synergistic ways that promote health.
The study authors say it best: Dr. JoAnn E. Manson, the senior author of the B-vitamin study comments on her study in a NYT article: “This doesn’t preclude an important benefit from diets that are high in B vitamins and folates, and folate intake throughout pregnancy is very important.”
Howard D. Sesso, the lead author of the study examining Vitamins E and C similarly comments in a NYT article: ''At the end of the day this serves as a reminder that we should get back to basics: keeping your body weight in check, being physically active, not smoking and following a good diet.''
2. We need vitamins throughout our entire life. Vitamins are needed from the second an embryo is formed until a person dies. Some of the researchers suggest that vitamin supplements may have proved futile because they were taken too late in life. It is foolish to assume that vitamins can counteract years of poor diet, insufficient activity levels, and faulty genes.
3. Vitamins are still important It is probably wise to take a multi-vitamin on most days, and absolutely necessary during pregnancy (for the folic acid, iron, vitamin D, and others). I cannot trust myself or any of you to eat a perfectly healthy diet. If that was our entire focus in life, then maybe we could do it. But other life events get in the way. However, no one should rely on any vitamin regimen to replace a healthy diet. They are simply used to fill in the cracks or if a certain food group is not consumed. Some examples: calcium supplements for women who do not eat enough dairy; fish supplements who women who do not eat enough fish; vitamin D supplements in the winter months.
Why goBeyond Prenatals? These research studies show that good health starts early in life and requires eating healthy foods. The way to achieve this is to eat healthy foods before and during pregnancy and feed your children well. And that is what going Beyond Prenatals is all about: Going beyond prenatal vitamins to create a healthy pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, and childhood.
Interested in reading more? Check out these 2 NYT Blog posts here and here.