It’s something that science-based medicine folks, and skeptics, and others have been proclaiming for years, but apparently the latest studies (three plus an editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine) were what caught on in the press: “Doctors: Multivitamins Have No Benefits.”

“We believe that the case is closed — supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults with (most) mineral or vitamin supplements has no clear benefit and might even be harmful,” concluded the authors of the editorial summarizing the new research papers, published Dec. 16 in the Annals of Internal Medicine. “These vitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention. Enough is enough.”

In a normal world, and even in a conservative worldview, I would think that this would be confirmation of what conservatives would want: “Big Pharma” has been marketing pills that do nothing, so save your money and don’t buy them! Right? Wrong …

Because apparently, this is a big plot to take away our freedom of choice and freedom to self-medicate and make America beholden to “the UN agreement that says food is a medicine to be regulated by the state and that vitamins and minerals in the diet should be criminalized” (commenter “Locke-Fawkes” with 19 up and 0 down votes — top-rated on that story). Sigh.

You also apparently can’t trust doctors (“Doctors…..about as trustworthy as liberal Democrat used car salesmen.” —”nampilot68″ with 18 up and 0 down votes). Despite many polls indicating that doctors are typically among the most-trusted people profession-wise.

Apparently, this study really is about trying to ween us from self-medicating on multivitamins that can prevent illness in order to get us to take more drugs that Big Pharma makes to alleviate symptoms (from “tiza” with 12 up and 0 down votes): “This study is so laughable and ridiculous, as well as the doctors for trusting in it. Physicians rarely have much nutrition study. They need to have a very long talk with the likes of Dr. Russell Blaylock. Actually they could learn something about the importance of specific supplements. But they are only interested in the drugs, and those drugs can make folks very, very ill.”

What I think most of these people don’t realize is that it’s “big pharma” drug companies making the friggin’ multivitamins!!!! (for the most part) Why wouldn’t they? The vitamins don’t have to be regulated in the US, they don’t have to be tested, don’t have to have proven efficacy, or any of that other stuff that costs butt-loads of R&D money. Sigh.

Meanwhile, a month later on January 13, Lee Hieb, M.D., “an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in spinal surgery,” wrote an article for WND. The image accompanying it is incredibly unappetizing with about four different kinds of pills, all amber-yellow except one set of black. It’s entitled “So ‘Vitamins Don’t Work,’ Eh?” It’s hard to pass Dr. Hieb off as a new-age quack or alt-med person, being the past president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, though that group is a “free market medical organization.” But, using her as an individual is an argument from authority, and anyone using the, “but people like them!” is using an argument from popularity. Perhaps one can pass on Dr. Hieb as a medical authority by her third paragraph, though:

Now I will admit my bias. My bias is that modern medicine is the “Flat Earth Society,” and its adherents are infused with hubris – they “know not that they knoweth not.” In other words, classically trained physicians (and I am one) fall into the trap of forgetting that they don’t have all the answers, and that the truth is always unfolding. Today in 2013 what we believe is true will not be seen to be true in a hundred years.

What she sets up, unfortunately, is a straw man in her next two paragraphs:

In reality, even classically trained physicians use vitamins and mineral supplements all the time in their practice, and believe that they work – even the guys from the Ivy League who treat naturopaths and “complementary” physicians with such contempt. They prescribe Vitamin D all the time for bone preservation. They give iron for blood deficiency. They use sublingual and injectable B12 for pernicious anemia and neuropathy. These are vitamins and minerals.

They just don’t want you, the patient, to have the option of taking things you believe make sense. They want the FDA to control things, so only someone with an MD or DO behind their name can prescribe supplements.

What she says here is true: “They prescribe Vitamin D all the time for bone preservation. They give iron for blood deficiency. They use sublingual and injectable B12 for pernicious anemia and neuropathy. These are vitamins and minerals.” The difference is that those are things (vitamins and minerals in this case) used to treat a specific indication, and they are used because they have been shown in clinical trials to work.

This is in contrast with the innumerable shelves of “supplements” such as multi-vitamins that have not been shown in robust, controlled clinical trials to do much of anything. Other than produce expensive urine. And that’s what the latest research / popular article was showing. Hence the straw man.

What she also fails to mention is that supplements are drugs! They are vitamins, minerals, or other complex molecules that have a physiological effect on the human body. That is a drug. If you have no medical knowledge, why would you want to put something in your body that has not been proven to do what you think it does, convinced by some slick marketing ad or your friend Donna down the street? The second paragraph in that block quote is just conspiracy wrapped around what I said.

The bulk of the rest of her article is more conspiracy (“Pharmaceutical companies have everything to lose by you treating yourself” –no, because they can still sell you the drug you use to treat yourself!), examples of individual vitamins or minerals that are known to treat certain things, and of course, the “freedom” issue.

Americans value their freedom of, well, everything. Should you have the freedom to self-medicate yourself to death? I think mostly so, probably yes. With the very strong caveat that you must be fully informed of what you are doing, go in with your “eyes open,” as the saying goes. Vitamins and supplements for the most part are sold not because they have proven efficacy to prevent the common cold (common claim for Vitamin C), but because companies market them because they are cheap and there are no regulations that prevent them from making dubious (though do prevent them from making false) claims. And most marketing is done form them by people like Dr. Hieb. Or your friend Donna who takes a daily multivitamin and hasn’t gotten the flu in 40 years.

That’s my issue with this, and why I’m in the scientific skepticism movement in general: Critical thinking is sorely lacking, and people who think they are informed typically are not.

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