I’m just going to pop another vitamin pill

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So you want to live to be 110?  Is the answer multi vitamins?  The answer, if you believe the articles about megavitamins, is in your local health food store.  The answer, if you believe me, is none of those things.

Now longevity is a very difficult subject to research.  So you live to be 100, how do you prove that something (other than genetics) was going to get you there anyway.

Have you looked at census figures for the life expectancy in different countries?  Before you start “Googling”, Thailand doesn’t do too well at number 76 with male life expectancy at 71.4.  Countries at the top of the list are Monaco, Japan and Andorra.  Consult your travel agent for plane flights today!

However, staying at home, the latest trend is to take daily doses of antioxidants such as beta carotene, vitamin A and C or selenium to protect yourself against cancer, heart disease or signs of premature ageing.  There are some scientific results that show that people who have a high level of antioxidants in their diet have a lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers.  That is why the nutritionists say we should eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.  However, other studies also seem to suggest that taking those same antioxidants in pill form may not have the same effect and may even be harmful.  Who do you believe!

The British Heart Foundation says that research does not support the claim that taking extra antioxidants in the form of supplements will benefit the heart.

But surely, if this were the case, why do so many people pop the multivitamin pills?  We know we need vitamins, and some of us may have poor diets.  Replenishing the stores is then surely ‘good medicine’?

Let us listen to some experts in the field, and not the back of the cereal box.  Catherine Collins, chief dietitian at St George’s Hospital in London says, “The whole idea that you must meet some vitamin and mineral target every day of your life is a marketing myth.  You can eat lots of fruit and veg one day and not much the next but over a week you will still get the right amount of nutrients.  There is very little scientific evidence that there is any benefit whatsoever in taking a daily multivitamin – even in old people.  You cannot exist on a poor diet then shore yourself up with a multivitamin.  The idea that taking high quantities of vitamins will give you a health boost – like putting premium petrol in your car – is complete nonsense.”

Dr Toni Steer, nutritionist on Human Nutrition Research in Cambridge, states supplements cannot compete with real food because when we eat fruits and vegetables the vitamins and nutrients interact with other chemicals to produce positive effects on the body.  “If these same vitamins are pulled out and isolated in pill form, there is no guarantee at all that they will have the same effect.”

Another nail in the multivitamin coffin came from the US journal of the National Cancer Institute which found that men with prostate cancer who took more than seven multivitamins a week were 30 percent more likely to get an advanced and fatal form of the disease.  This came after a large, though hotly contested, review published in the journal of the American Medical Association which found that people who took antioxidant vitamin tablets (particularly vitamins A and E, and beta-carotene) were more likely to die earlier than those who did not.  Oops!  That isn’t something you will read on the back of the multivitamin bottle.

Let’s look at the old Vitamin C to ward off the common cold, as proposed many years ago by Linus Pauling.  Common claim: one-gram doses will ward off or even cure the common cold.  Reality check: the human body can absorb only 500 milligrams of vitamin C and will excrete the excess.  Vitamin C reduces the average length of a common cold from five days to four and a half – if you are lucky.

Do I take multivitamins?  No.  And I am going to live to be 110 (or die in the attempt).