Multivitamins and dietary supplements are a waste of money, doctors say

CC BY 2.0 bradley j

Half of Americans take a daily dietary supplement of some kind, and forty percent opt for the popular multivitamin pill. As a result, the supplement industry, both in the U.S. and in Europe, has grown tremendously over the past decade, reaching $28 billion in annual U.S. sales in 2010. Supplements may be a very popular source of nutrients, but according to an editorial published by a group of doctors on December 16 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, they are nothing but a huge waste of money. The editorial’s blunt title makes its message clear: “Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.”

According to the editorial, there is sufficient accumulated evidence to advise against routine supplementation:

“Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided.”

In some cases, multivitamin supplements could even cause harm. The only exception the doctors made was for vitamin D, which requires further research to determine whether benefits actually outweigh harm. There were three parts to the new review study:

First, researchers examined clinical trials that included a total of 450,000 people and reiterated what previous studies had said – that it has never been scientifically established whether long-term vitamin use prevents heart disease and cancer.

Second, researchers have found that there is no benefit to taking a daily combination of nutrients. A twelve-year study of 6,000 male physicians age 65 and older showed that those who took a multivitamin were no more likely to retain cognitive function than those who took a placebo. In fact, some supplements even cause harm, such as beta-carotene that increases the risk of lung cancer in smokers, and high doses of vitamins A and E that may increase risk of death and cause harm.

Third, researchers looked at whether high doses of minerals and vitamins could prevent heart attacks, strokes, and death in 1,700 people who’d already had a heart attack. Five years later, there was no difference between those who took dietary supplements and those who didn’t.

The editorial is interesting, though it doesn't address the role of multivitamins in pregnancy, and if vitamins can benefit people who engage in high-intensity physical activity. The editorial does underline what many people already know -- that establishing healthy dietary habits is more important than ever. Dr. Stephen Fortmann, a senior investigator at the Kaiser Center for Health Research, did not sign the editorial but agrees with its message:

“Don’t think [a multivitamin] makes up for a bad diet, that you can eat a lot of fast food and then take a bunch of supplements. That’s not a good idea.”
Supplements are not a replacement for the vitamins and minerals that come from eating a well-rounded, nutrient-rich diet on a regular basis. It would seem, then, than paying for sensible cooking classes might be a better investment for one’s personal health than forking out money on expensive dietary supplements.

Multivitamins and dietary supplements are a waste of money, doctors say
A recent editorial explains why supplements don't provide the health benefits that many people think they have.

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