Scientists in Australia and the United Kingdom have recently published the results of a randomized controlled clinical trial indicating that dietary supplementation with a multivitamin may improve mood and general well-being in healthy young adults1. A population of 138 adults between the ages of 20 and 50 were given a multivitamin supplement containing high levels of B-complex vitamins over a 16-week period.
A panel of six chronic measures of mood were administered at baseline, mid-way through the study period and at the conclusion of the study. A subset of study participants also reported their mood and well-being via at-home mobile phone assessments using two of the six instruments. While there were no significant effects in the laboratory measurements, the at-home assessments showed reduced fatigue, anxiety and stress in the multivitamin group as opposed to those taking placebo.
The malnourished west
If we were still hunter-gatherers like our cavemen ancestors, a healthy diet would make the need for supplements redundant. Ancient hunter-gatherers subsisted on a diet of lean meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts. But once we started farming and introduced carbs and dairy into our diets, the genetic changes required to adapt the human digestive system did not keep pace with the rapid changes in the way we ate. This is the basis for the currently popular Paleo Diet and other similar dietary regimens.
With a variety of fruits and vegetables, along with fish and nuts for our omega-3s, we would have a pretty good chance of getting everything necessary in terms of vitamins and antioxidants. As it is, modern western life is sedentary and stressful. Negotiating a healthy, well-rounded paleo diet is time-consuming and expensive. High carb, high fat diets are quicker, easier and cheaper to sustain.
Multivitamin supplements contain a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Given the importance of the B-complex vitamins2, Vitamin D3 and magnesium4 in healthy brain function, it is little wonder that a diet that is poor in these nutrients would make us feel sluggish and lousy.
Multivitamins have a growing evidence base
It is true that most multivitamins are classified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as dietary supplements and, as such, are not subject to the same rigorous testing procedures as pharmaceutical drugs. This does not mean that they are not scrutinized in clinical trials. A search of ClinicalTrials.gov5, the global registry of publicly and privately funded clinical trials, currently returns 155 results for “multivitamins” and 3,850 studies for “vitamin.” All clinical trials are governed by international standards.
What does it all mean?
This is a significant revelation. Too many clinical trials of nutrient supplements are fixated on cardiovascular disease, improving cancer survival rates or some other pathological condition. Laudable goals, but sometimes we just want something that makes us feel better and do more. Find the right combination of nutrients for research scientists, and the cures for cancer and heart disease might be discovered that much sooner!
1Pipingas A, et al, “The effects of multivitamin supplementation on mood and general well-being in healthy young adults. A laboratory and at-home mobile phone assessment.” Appetite. 2013.
2Kashani L, Saedi N, Akhondzadeh S, “Femicomfort in the Treatment of Premenstrual Syndromes: A Double-Blind, Randomized and Placebo Controlled Trial, Iranian Journal of Psychiatry” 2010.
3Dean AJ et al, “Effects of Vitamin D Supplementation on Cognitive and Emotional Functioning in Young Adults – A Randomised Controlled Trial”, PloS ONE 6:11 (2011)
4Eby GA and Eby KL, “Rapid recovery from major depression using magnesium treatment.” Medical Hypotheses. 2006.