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Episode 21: Mythbusting the Multivitamin

Posted by Manoj Perumal on

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About This Episode

Mythbusting the Multivitamin

In this episode of Discover with Dr. Dan | Proactive Health, Dr. Dan uncovers the truth behind multivitamins and whether or not they’re worth the money. He also discusses how plants are essential for cell health and how we can improve lifestyle to optimize phytonutrient effectiveness. Tune in to the episode to learn more. 

To Buy or Not To Buy?

In the late 1800s, physician Christiaan Eijkman made the connection between nutrition and beriberi (a fatal condition plaguing parts of the world) by studying the diets of chickens. He found that chickens that ate brown rice didn’t develop beriberi and those that only ate white rice developed the disease. Frederick Hopkins added to this discovery by feeding animals different diets consisting heavily of whole foods, fats, carbohydrates and proteins. The animals that ate the pure fats, carbohydrates or proteins developed beriberi more quickly than animals that ate a whole food diet. These studies ultimately lead to the isolation and creation of vital amine compounds, or vitamins, in tablet and capsule form in the 1930s, thus birthing the multivitamin revolution. In more recent years, multivitamins have come under heavy scrutiny as their effectiveness for people living in first and second world countries is questionable. This being said, it begs the question of whether or not multivitamins are worth the money. According to Dr. Dan, they are not.

Marketing at Its Finest

A study conducted in 2009 followed 162,000 participants over the course of eight years to see if taking a multivitamin daily affects rates of cancer, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and cardiovascular disease. Half of the participants took a daily multivitamin and the other half did not. Interestingly, researchers found that there was no significant difference between individuals who took multivitamins and those who did not when it comes to such diseases. More studies have been conducted since then under similar circumstances and the answer remains the same every time: there is no clear evidence that suggests multivitamins have any effect on cancer, dementia, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive function. So, what’s the big fuss and social buzz around multivitamins? Dr. Dan says that much of the hype around these supplements comes from slick marketing tactics. “It’s the best-selling supplement in the world. It does over $32 billion in revenue in the USA alone…The multivitamin is seen as essential to take. The marketing that has been done is great. It’s seen as an insurance policy for your health.” Many supplement brands feed into the urgency of taking multivitamins, telling people that they need these capsules to enhance their health. However, this is only true for people in third world or developing countries.

What You Can Take Instead

Research shows that multivitamins are only effective in developing countries where people are malnourished and deficient in vital nutrients. In developed countries, foods are often fortified with vitamins; however, these fortified foods are lacking in the phytonutrient department. Phytonutrients are bioactive compounds from plants that help strengthen and protect the immune system and cell function by stopping communication between bad bacteria. These compounds are essential to immune health so to increase phytonutrient intake, Dr. Dan insists that we should be eating a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods. He also says that having a habit of taking a daily multivitamin is a good thing, as long as we soon replace that multivitamin with a daily phytonutrient supplement. Brilliant offers supplements full of these bioactive compounds that are safe to take daily.  

Dr. Dan leaves listeners with one final bit of advice: “Eat good food. Don’t take a multivitamin. Take a phytonutrient supplement that gives you the bioactive compounds that you need.”

To learn more about mythbusting multivitamins, check out the Discover with Dr. Dan | Proactive Health podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Tuesday.


Dr. Dan Gubler: (00:00)

Welcome to Discover with Dr. Dan | The Proactive Health Podcast. This podcast is sponsored by Brilliant, an innovative proactive wellness company. Brilliant helps people to live a healthier and happier life by discovering and using bioactive natural ingredients to formulate products that help them discover and unleash their innate brilliance. To find out more, go to Today, we’re going to have some fun. We’re going to talk about the multivitamin and we’re going to answer the question and mythbust, is a multivitamin needed in the world we live in today, or is it a waste of money? Are we making expensive urine? So let’s talk about the multivitamin. It’s the best-selling supplement in the world. It does over $32 billion in revenue in the USA alone, and estimates are 200 to $300 billion worldwide. The multivitamin is seen as essential to take. The marketing that has been done is great. It’s seen as a insurance policy for your health.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (01:11)

Classic multivitamin formulas contain, obviously vitamins and minerals. Vitamins like: vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, vitamin K, et cetera, and minerals: magnesium, copper, calcium, phosphorus, selenium, and so forth. So why should we take the multivitamin? The classic marketing is that we take the multivitamin to reduce our risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. So let’s look at the history of the multivitamin. In 1889, a Dutch physician named Christiaan Eijkman was working in the Dutch East Indies, which is now Indonesia today, and he was studying beriberi. Beriberi was a fatal condition. It caused muscle weakness, confusion, and death. The disease was common in the area. It was a pandemic. Eijkman studied and he found in chickens, chickens that were fed white rice, just white rice versus chickens that were fed brown rice, there was a big difference. The chickens that just ate white rice died quickly and developed beriberi, while the chickens that ate brown rice and the wholes of the brown rice, the whole brown rice, did not develop beriberi. So that was really interesting to him.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (02:26)

In 1906, an English biochemist named Frederick Hopkins, suggested a connection between nutrition and diseases like beriberi and scurvy. So Hopkins did some animal experiments where he fed animals just pure fats, pure carbohydrates, and pure protein. And what he found is that those animals developed disease more quickly than animals that were fed the whole food. And so he postulated that in whole food, there was something which he called accessory factors that were essential for health. In 1911, Casimir Funk, a Polish biochemist, proposed that there were hitherto undiscovered class of compounds that were present in small amounts of food that were vital for health.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (03:09)

And he said that these compounds contained a functional group called amines. So he called these compounds vital amines, which was later shortened to vitamins. And that’s why we get the vitamin term today. In 1926, Dutch chemists Jansen and Donath, also working in Indonesia, they isolated crystals from rice, brown rice, of what they called was an anti beriberi factor. Eijkman, who was doing this research, used that isolated crystals and he used that in his experiments around that feeding that material, these crystals to chickens eating white rice, they did not develop beriberi. And so that was interesting. They called this water soluble factor B-1 which later became to known as vitamin B-1 or thiamine. An interesting side note, my grandpa was a biochemist and he was one of the first ones to study thiamine and its effect in the body, its mode of action. And he did a lot of cool work that way. So I remember growing up in his lab as he was studying thiamine. Good times.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (04:15)

So scientists at Merck and Roche in the 1930s, they synthesized vitamin B-1. They figured out the structure and they synthesized it and they were able to put it in a capsule and in a tablet. And so that led to a revolution where scientists now were isolating vitamins from different fruits and vegetables, and then they were synthesizing them in the pharmaceutical industry. And it got to the point that scientists were able to synthesize vitamin C, vitamin D, the different B vitamins, vitamin E and others. And what they did is they put these then into capsules and tablets. And so at the end of the 1930s is when we saw the classic multivitamin come about when it came to the formula.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (04:56)

Vitamin research was huge. There have been 17 Nobel prizes awarded for scientists who have discovered and isolated and synthesized vitamins. So the multivitamin was heralded as a miracle drug. And indeed it was. Diseases like scurvy and beriberi were eradicated in first and second world countries because of these vitamins and minerals. But the question we’re going to tackle today is, is the multivitamin necessary for those living in first and second world countries? Do we need it? Well, let’s look at the research. We’re about science here. We look at the hardcore science and that then leads us to make conclusions and talk about the results.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (05:42)

So in 2009, there was a study. It was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. This study had 162,000 participants. That’s a large number. 50%, took a multivitamin, 50% did not, and they follow participants over the course of eight years. And they were looking for instances of cardiovascular disease, dementia, Alzheimer’s, cancer. And they wanted to see if there was a difference. And after eight years and tracking throughout, they found that there was no difference between the multivitamin group and the vitamin group in instance of disease. So in other words, the people who did not take a multivitamin did not have higher levels of cancer than those who took the multivitamin. So in 2009, that was a landmark paper and it caused people to study this a little bit more. So there were other papers. One of the biggest ones though, was in 2013. This was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which is one of the best journals on the planet next to the New England Journal of Medicine, it is the top medical journal and a lot of good research is published there. So this research, they took about 28,000 people, half took a multivitamin, half did not. They followed these people for 10 years.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (06:57)

Again, they did not see significant results that taking a multivitamin reduced risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis. So a 2013 study took 16,000 male physicians, 65 and older, and wanted to look at the effect of the multivitamin on cognitive function. One of the things about the multivitamin, one of the marketing stories is that if we take a multivitamin daily, our cognitive function, both day to day and cognitive function long-term, can reduce risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s is a real thing. So they wanted to test this. So they took these male physicians, they followed them then for four years. Again, half took a multivitamin, half did not. And what they found, they did cognitive tests throughout, and they did cognitive tests at the end. And they found out that there was no increase in cognitive function when a multivitamin was taken. So we see cancer, cardiovascular disease and cognitive health conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia, no significant effect by taking a multivitamin.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (08:05)

A 2014 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine by the US Preventative Services Task Force, they looked at 24 different studies that contained over 400,000 participants. So think about that. About half a million participants, 24 individual studies, they collected all the data and they analyzed the results. And what they found again, is that there was insufficient evidence to show that taking a multivitamin daily helped to decrease risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, osteoporosis, cognitive health. So that was really interesting. In that journal, a group of physicians from John Hopkins Medical School, which is one of the top medical schools on the planet, they publish an editorial. And in that editorial, they said, it was titled, “Enough is enough: stop wasting money on multivitamins.” In that editorial they said that the multivitamin doesn’t have any beneficial effect on human health in living in first and second world countries, but it can potentially be dangerous because some multivitamins contain 400 to 10,000% of the recommended daily intake of vitamins and minerals. And as we’ve talked about before, the dose determines the poison. Anything’s toxic when you take it in large amounts. And so these medical doctors said to avoid that issue of overdosing, don’t take a multivitamin at all. So what’s the takeaway? Based on the scientific literature, the multivitamin is not effective. So we’ve busted this myth.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (09:42)

If you’re living in first and second world countries, if you’re living in a third world country and you’re severely malnourished, then yes, taking a multivitamin could help. But first and second world countries the multivitamin is not effective. And one of the things related to that, it’s food fortification. So in developed countries, when you get grains, corn, wheat, rice, they process them. And as we know, processing is a bad thing. It can remove vitamins and minerals. And so what they do is they put vitamins and minerals back into these grains. So this food is fortified. So when you eat a Twinkie or lucky charms, your sugary cereal, white bread, you’ll look at the nutrition facts and you can see it has a hundred percent of your vitamins and minerals. So if these foods have a hundred percent of vitamins and minerals, what’s the problem? Why is health at a crisis point? Why is obesity high? Why do we have high incidences and high rates of cancer?

Dr. Dan Gubler: (10:41)

Part of it is the sugar glut. We’re eating way too much sugar. The other part, though, when you look at food, there’s different components. You have macronutrients like fat, protein, carbs. You have micronutrients which are vitamins and minerals, and then you have phytonutrients and phytonutrients are these bioactive compounds from plants. And what we’ve seen is that these bioactive compounds from plants are the medicinal component of plants. And so we really have a deficiency in these vital nutrients. So when we look at food and the different components of food, we’re not deficient in macronutrients, fats, protein, carbs, we’re not deficient in vitamins. We’re not deficient in minerals due to the food fortification concept that we talked about, but we are becoming deficient in phytonutrients. So even if we eat good food, plants, fruits, and vegetables, which contain these vital nutrients, scientific research has shown that some fruits and vegetables can contain less phytonutrients simply because of soil depletion, where it was grown, how much rainfall the plant received.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (11:46)

And so I call this the phytonutrient drain where bioactive organic compounds, the medicinal component from plants are slipping away. So what do we do? We need to eat good food, obviously, whole foods avoid processed foods, but even then, it’s not enough. So what we need to do is we need to have other sources of bioactive compounds. And that’s one of the things we’re doing here at Brilliant is we’re taking bioactive compounds from plants and we’re putting them into formulations. Some cool things about bioactive compounds from plants, one of the major things of bioactive compounds, these phytonutrients from plants do is they regulate signaling, bio signaling in the body. So the body can be thought of as an electrical grid that sends signals back and forth to power the millions of chemical reactions a body performs every single second. And these signaling cascades are powered by these phytonutrients from plants.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (12:41)

Another really interesting angle and avenue where phytonutrients are essential is in immune health. Immune health and degradation in immune health is caused by bad bacteria. Bad bacteria get into the body. They secrete compounds where they start talking to each other. It’s called quorum sensing. And when they chatter with each other, they grow and grow in amounts until they can overcome the immune system and gut health and wreak havoc on the body. Bioactive compounds from plants have been shown, and some of them we’ve discovered here at Brilliant, have been shown to disrupt the signaling mechanism between bacteria, bad bacteria, and when bad bacteria can’t talk to each other, they’re siloed and they die. Another really cool area where phytonutrients are important is in bioavailability. It’s not enough to just take good food. Lifestyle factors like diet, exercise, and stress can cause the cells to become leaky.

Dr. Dan Gubler: (13:39)

So the good food and the phytonutrients in the good food we eat, start to leak out of the cell. And so phytonutrients from plants have been found to bind to the cell, stop it from leaking and thus increase the amount of bioactive compounds in the cell. So while the daily multivitamin isn’t effective, the concept of taking something daily to improve overall health is really important. And so having a product that contains large amounts of phytonutrients in it is needed, and it’s something that can be effective and people are doing that. People are developing formulas. Here at Brilliant, we have three different formulas that contain good amounts of these phytonutrients and bioactive compounds. So eat good food. Don’t take a multivitamin. Take a phytonutrient supplement that gives you the bioactive compounds that you need. So I hope you found this helpful. Leave a review if you like this information. Let us know how we’re doing. Keep listening and thanks again. This is Dr. Dan signing off.

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