Vitamin and mineral therapy - a cure for MS?

"This vitamin and mineral supplement can cure MS!" Have you heard this before? Could claims like this be true?

Based on currently available information, the answer is no. You may see ads where high-dose vitamin or mineral supplements are touted as a cure or treatment for MS. However, there is no good evidence to show that these treatments can help people who already have MS (although there is some evidence that vitamin D may help prevent MS – see "What's the link between vitamin D and MS" in this feature for more information). In fact, high doses of vitamins and minerals can even be harmful to your health. See "Too much of a good thing: can you overdose on vitamins and minerals?" in this feature for more information.

Advertisements for supplements may claim to offer evidence that their products work. This evidence is usually a small study that is not properly designed to look at safety and effectiveness. In studies like this, the positive results may be due to something called the placebo effect.

So what is the placebo effect? A placebo is a "dummy pill," sometimes referred to as a sugar pill, containing no active medication. Studies using placebos randomly put people in different groups: one group gets the actual medication and the other gets the placebo. (The groups are similar to each other except for the treatment they are getting.) If the people taking the placebo get positive results, this is known as the placebo effect. These studies are important to separate out whether the beneficial effects are due to the medication itself or simply to thinking that you are on an active treatment. Some studies indicate that the placebo effect can be as high as 30-40%! If a study doesn't include a placebo, there's no way to tell for sure whether the beneficial effects are due to the medication itself, or just to the placebo effect.

It is important to get enough vitamins and minerals to maintain your health. Usually, a healthy diet that follows Canada's Food Guide and contains a variety of different foods is the best way to get your daily requirements of vitamins and minerals. In some cases, your doctor may advise you to take a multivitamin to make sure you are getting the vitamins and minerals you need. If you're concerned about getting enough vitamins or minerals in your diet, talk to your doctor or dietitian.

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