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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Multivitamins ARE Good for Your Brain

More than half of adults in the United States take multivitamin supplements. A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine disputed their brain benefits, but taking a closer look at this poorly designed research sheds some light on its questionable conclusions.

Published December 17, 2013, the study "Long-Term Multivitamin Supplementation and Cognitive Function in Men" looked at brain function in elderly men taking low-potency multivitamins.

The multivitamin used in this study was Centrum Silver, which contains concentrations of nutrients well below therapeutic daily dosages including:
  • 25 micrograms of vitamin B12 (studies show that 100 to 500 micrograms can improve cognitive function in elderly men)
  • 3 milligrams of vitamin B6 (studies show that 20 milligrams can slow brain atrophy in the elderly and the optimal intake is 35 milligrams for men and 60 for women according to Dr. Russell B. Marz)
  • 60 milligrams of vitamin C (the optimal intake for adults is 1,000 to 9,000 milligrams)
  • 20 micrograms of selenium (the optimal intake is 200 to 300 micrograms)

Even the researchers admitted that the doses of nutrients "may be too low."

Not only does Centrum Silver contain too few nutrients, it contains too many potentially toxic additives including aluminum-containing artificial colors like FD&C Blue 2 Aluminum Lake, FD&C Red 40 Aluminum Lake, and FD&C Yellow 6 Aluminum Lake. These chemicals can have adverse effects on brain function.

Furthermore, the scientists conducting this study included people who took the multivitamins only two-thirds of the time and they relied on the recollection of the participants during a once-a-year telephone interview instead of asking them to return any unused supplements for a more reliable measure of compliance.

It's no wonder that taking inadequate amounts of vitamins on an intermittent basis didn't show big brain benefits, especially when the supplements in question contained chemicals that can actually harm cognitive function.

In contrast, numerous well-designed, randomized, placeo-controled studies using higher concentrations of vitamins have shown that nutrients in multivitamin formulas are essential for the well-being and normal function of the brain and that they can improve cognitive function. Specifically, they have been shown to 

In an ideal world, the vitamins and minerals we need would come from food. But in the real world, it’s almost impossible to get all of the nutrients our bodies need from diet alone. There are several reasons and some of them include:
  • Modern-day lifestyles, prescription medications, and chronic illnesses all increase our needs for nutrients but foods today are significantly less nutritious than the wild ones that were available to our ancestors
  • Industrial-farming methods like growing monocultures and using chemical fertilizers have depleted nutrients in soil, and if the nutrients aren’t available for plants to absorb them, we don't ingest them
  • We’ve selected and engineered plant species for their appearance and shelf life, not for their nutritional content
  • We pick fruits and vegetables before they’re ripe (unripe produce has significantly less nutrients than mature produce) and ship them long distances, which depletes nutrient stores even further
  • Air pollution and rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reduce the nutritional content of the plants we eat
  • A large portion of the foods we eat have been processed and the manufacturing methods used to make them destroy vitamins

Multivitamins can compensate for what’s missing, so think of them as health insurance. Formulas and quality vary greatly from one brand to another and what's inside is as important as what isn't. Many multivitamins contain cheap, inactive forms of nutrients that are not well-absorbed or they contain contaminants, fillers, binders, and flowing agents that can have adverse effects.

Read about what I look for in multivitamins on page 89 of my new book, The Prediabetes Detox, or get individualized recommendations from your naturopathic doctor.

Unlike other medical practitioners, naturopathic doctors have extensive training in prescribing supplements like vitamins and minerals and they are knowledgeable in potential interactions between natural medicines and prescription medications.

Next week I'll discuss the problems with the other recent studies attempting to discredit multivitamins and explain why they really can provide cardiovascular and cancer protection.

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