Big flaws in vitamin study

It takes a lot to get me mad. But right now, I'm positively steamed over a stunningly ignorant new report that claims multivitamins are a waste of time and money -- and that if you're taking one yourself, you should stop.

But this report isn't based on science. It's not even a study. It's an editorial based on three recent studies, each with glaring problems. The main question is do multivitamins work? 

One claims multivitamins won't prevent a second heart attack in heart patients -- but more than half of the patients in the study stopped taking their vitamins. It's kind of hard to say the vitamin failed when the majority didn't actually take it.

The second says multis won't prevent cognitive decline in older men -- but these weren't your typical older men. They were doctors, and very healthy doctors at that. Whether they took a vitamin or placebo, they didn't even suffer the level of decline expected in men of their age.

And the third claims multivitamins won't do much for heart risk -- except it was a meta-analysis, aka the type of study where you can pick and choose data in hindsight that supports a pre-determined conclusion.

But forget the flaws (if you can), because there's a much bigger problem with these studies: They were designed to fail.

Multivitamins were never intended to prevent heart attack or cognitive decline, and I don't know anyone who takes them thinking they do. Multivitamins are there to make sure you're covered on the most basic nutrients -- the nutrients all of us need, but many of us don't get from diet alone.

Do multivitamins work at fighting disease? Not exactly, they're a starting point, and as such they're pretty good: One recent study found that a multivitamin can reduce the risk of death from breast cancer by a third. Another found that even a mediocre multi can reduce the risk of all non-prostate cancers in men by 12 percent.

And other studies have shown that multivitamins can improve mood and focus, ease stress, fight fatigue and more.

But again, they're a starting point. Once you find yourself facing more serious problems and risks, you need to do more to take control of your health.

If you're suffering from heart disease, for example, boosting your magnesium intake will cut your risk of death from heart problems by more than half.

Just don't expect to find that magnesium in a multi. It takes up too much room in the capsule -- so you need to boost your intake through diet, a separate magnesium supplement or (ideally) both.

Same for cognitive decline -- because while both omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins have been shown to slow the decline that comes with age and prevent dementia, you won't find enough for those benefits in a multi.

Again, you'll need separate supplements.

So don't give up on your multi and if you're still wondering do multivitamins work., just realize that it's one piece of the puzzle -- a starting point with the basics we all need. The rest of the picture will depend on your health, your diet and your specific needs and risks.

That's why you need to work with a doctor, ideally an integrative holistic doctor who can combine the best in natural health and vitamins with mainstream medicine.