Vitamins and supplements may be a waste of money for most Americans, report says


FILE IMAGE – A collection of vitamins and supplements. (Photo by Anthony Devlin – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)

For adults who are generally healthy and not pregnant, multivitamins and dietary supplements can be a waste of money, according to a national panel of disease prevention and evidence-based medicine experts.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force updated its recommendation on the use of certain multivitamins and supplements based on a review of 84 studies, including 52 new studies since its last recommendation in 2014.

The review looked at vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, beta-carotene, calcium, folic acid, magnesium, selenium, zinc, and other multivitamins. It found “insufficient evidence” that taking multivitamins, paired supplements or single supplements can help prevent cardiovascular disease, cancer and death in otherwise healthy non-pregnant adults.

Heart disease and cancer are the the two leading causes of death in the United States

Specifically, the task force recommends against taking beta-carotene supplements due to an increased risk of lung cancer and does not recommend taking vitamin E supplements because it has no benefit in reducing the risk of death, cardiovascular disease or cancer.

“Vitamin and mineral supplementation offers little or no benefit in preventing cancer, cardiovascular disease, and death…Data were absent or insufficient to draw conclusions for one of the B vitamins, iron , zinc or magnesium,” the task force concluded in its report.

The report was published on June 21 on the working group’s website, as well as in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

“If it was really good for you, we would know by now”

“Patients ask all the time, ‘What supplements should I take?’ They waste money and get carried away thinking there must be some magic set of pills that will keep them healthy when we should all be following the evidence-based practices of healthy eating and exercising “, Dr Jeffrey Linderchief of general internal medicine in the department of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a statement.

Linder and fellow scientists at Northwestern Medicine wrote an op-ed that was also published on June 21 in JAMA which supports the new recommendations of the task force.

“The task force doesn’t say ‘don’t take multivitamins,’ but there’s this idea that if they were really good for you, we would know by now,” Linder continued. “The harm is that talking to patients about supplements during the very limited time we have to see them misses us advice on how to really reduce cardiovascular risk, such as through exercise or quitting smoking.”

More than half of American adults take dietary supplements as a way to improve or maintain their overall health, and supplement use is expected to increase, Linder and colleagues wrote in the editorial. In 2021, nearly $50 billion was spent on vitamins and dietary supplements in the United States, they added.

The editorial noted that fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with decreased cardiovascular disease and cancer risk, so it’s reasonable to think that some vitamins and minerals could be extracted and packaged into a convenient pill.

But they argue that whole fruits and vegetables “contain a mix of vitamins, phytochemicals, fiber, and other nutrients that likely work synergistically to provide health benefits.” Taken in isolation, micronutrients may act differently in the body than when naturally packaged with a host of other dietary components, they wrote.

Under the right circumstances, Linder noted how supplements can have health benefits. This includes pregnant women or people with a vitamin deficiency who can benefit from calcium and vitamin D, which have been shown to prevent fractures and potential falls in the elderly.

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The new guidelines do not apply to pregnant women

New Task Force Guidelines Do Not Apply to People Who Are Pregnant or Trying to Get Pregnant, JAMA Editorial Co-Writer Dr. Natalie Camerongeneral internal medicine instructor at Feinberg, said in the statement.

For pregnant women, folic acid is recommended to prevent neural tube defects, and iron is recommended to prevent premature birth and low birth weight, as well as to improve fetal brain development.

“Certain vitamins, such as folic acid, are essential for pregnant women to support healthy fetal development,” Cameron said. “The most common way to meet these needs is to take a prenatal vitamin. More data is needed to understand how specific vitamin supplementation may modify the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes and cardiovascular complications during pregnancy. ”

Recent research from the Northwest also found that most women in the United States had poor heart health before becoming pregnant. Cameron said working with patients to optimize cardiovascular health before pregnancy is an important part of prenatal care, in addition to discussing vitamin supplementation.

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This story was reported from Cincinnati.


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