HEALTHY LIVING

Multivitamins Don't Hold Any Health Benefit, Experts Say

12/16/2013 06:08 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
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Do you take your vitamins every day? For the majority of people, it might just be a waste of time and money, according to a new editorial published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

The editorial, which is in response to three new studies also just published in the same journal, says that research does not show a health benefit to taking most vitamin supplements, and that they don't seem to prevent death or disease.

"The message is simple: Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided," wrote the editorial's authors, who come from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Warwick and the American College of Physicians. "This message is especially true for the general population with no clear evidence of micronutrient deficiencies, who represent most supplement users in the United States and in other countries."

Specifically, supplements of antioxidants, folic acid and vitamin B seem to hold no benefits, and could potentially even be harmful, though more research is necessary, the editorial's authors said. And beta carotene, vitamin E and possibly high doses of vitamin A may be harmful.

Multivitamins also don't seem to hold any additional benefits, they said, writing, "this evidence, combined with biological considerations, suggests that any effect, either beneficial or harmful, is probably small."

"The (vitamin and supplement) industry is based on anecdote, people saying 'I take this, and it makes me feel better,'" Dr. Edgar Miller, one of the authors of the editorial and a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told CNN. "It's perpetuated. But when you put it to the test, there's no evidence of benefit in the long term. It can't prevent mortality, stroke or heart attack."

However, the editorial authors noted that vitamin D supplementation, particularly for people who are deficient in the vitamin, still needs additional research.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends that pregnant women take 400 micrograms daily of folic acid to prevent birth defects such as spina bifida.

The studies published in the journal examined the effects of multivitamins on cognitive functioning in men, the potential heart benefits of multivitamins for people who have had a heart attack, and the effects of vitamins and mineral supplements in preventing cancer and heart disease. In all three studies, there was generally no benefit found. (Though the last study, which was actually a review of available research, did show limited evidence of multivitamins reducing cancer risk in men.)

However, CNN also pointed out that the populations examined in these studies aren't reflective of the American population, which may not get ample nutrients and vitamins from their diets.

The New York Times reported that sales of vitamins and minerals totaled around $30 billion in 2011, with more than half of people in the U.S. taking at least one supplement.

Previously, multivitamins had been linked with an increased risk of death among women ages 55 to 69, Medscape reported. However, that study only showed an association between multivitamin use and death risk, and did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

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