“We believe that the case is closed — supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults with (most) mineral or vitamin supplements has no clear benefit and might even be harmful,” said the authors of an editorial published Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. “These vitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention. Enough is enough.”
The vitamin and supplement industry have been consistently growing over the years and is estimated to be taken by about half of all Americans. However, after a review of the findings from three studies that tracked multivitamins and 24 trials of single and paired vitamins that randomly assigned more than 400,000 participants, the researchers concluded that there was no clear evidence of any beneficial effect from supplementation.
Vitamin Supplementation’s Role in Preventing Chronic Disease
The first major study, which was released online Nov. 12 in Annals, was a review of 24 studies and two trials on more than 350,000 individuals that looked at vitamin supplementation’s role in preventing chronic disease. The review was conducted to find evidence that can be used to update vitamin treatment guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a panel of medical experts who recommend the government on treatments.
That review found no evidence that vitamin and mineral supplementation would reduce heart disease in pill takers. Two of the trials found a small, “borderline-significant benefit” in cancer risk reduction, but only in men.
The panel concluded that there was no solid evidence for or against taking vitamins and minerals, or that a multivitamin can prevent heart disease or cancer. Moreover, the panel found enough evidence to recommend against taking beta-carotene or vitamin E for preventing both diseases, finding not only did they not help but the former may raise risk for lung cancer for already at-risk individuals.
The Task Force concluded, “In the absence of clear evidence about the impact of most vitamins and multivitamins on cardiovascular disease and cancer, health care professionals should counsel their patients to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that is rich in nutrients,”
Cognitive Health and Long Term Use of Multi-vitamins
The second major study, published December 16 in Annals, looked at cognitive health and whether long-term use of multivitamins would have any effect. Researchers assigned almost 5,950 male doctors aged 65 and older to take either a daily multivitamin or placebo for 12 years in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial.
After studying the results of memory tests that were taken repeatedly through the study, the researchers found the multivitamin did nothing to slow cognitive decline among men 65 and older compared to placebo takers.
It is important to note that the study only looked at cognitive test results, not actual development of dementia.
Multivitamins and Minerals Role in Preventing Another Heart Attack
The third major study looked specifically at multivitamins and minerals role in preventing another heart attack, or myocardial infarction. They looked at more than 1,700 people who had a heart attack at least six weeks earlier, and randomized them to receive daily high-dose multivitamins and minerals or placebos for five years.
Usually having a heart attack increases the risk of having another one or at least increases the risk of stroke or premature death. The researchers found no difference in rates of another heart attack, chest pain, the need for hospitalization, cardiac catheterization, or rates of stroke and early death between vitamin-takers and placebo-takers. However, they said the conclusions should be taken with caution, because several participants stopped taking vitamins early.
Is there a Role for Vitamin Supplementation?
A dietary supplement industry group slammed the editorial and studies.
“The editorial demonstrates a close-minded, one-sided approach that attempts to dismiss even the proven benefits of vitamins and minerals," Steve Mister, president and CEO of the Council for Responsibile Nutrition, said in a statement. "It’s a shame for consumers that the authors refuse to recognize the real-life need for vitamin and mineral supplementation, living in a fairy-tale world that makes the inaccurate assumption that we’re all eating healthy diets and getting everything we need from food alone."
It is important to note that none of the participants involved in the studies had nutritional deficiencies. There may still be a role for vitamin and mineral supplementations for those who are nutritionally deficient especially in cases where medications or disease states that can deplete some of these vital nutrients. For example, Vitamin D supplementation in high enough doses has been shown to help many elderly patients, lessen likely hood of heart diseases, multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes.
“There might be an argument to continue taking a multi(vitamin) to replace or supplement your not healthy diet,” Dr. Robert Graham, an internal medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, added to CBS News.
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