Three separate studies in a recent edition of the prestigious Annals of Internal Medicine investigated the vitamins and supplements that American gulp down to determine if those colorful pills have any impact on health.
One study looked to see if vitamins and mineral supplements could prevent cancer and heart disease.
Another sought to determine if high doses of vitamins could prevent another heart attack in people who have already had one.
The third study followed male physicians aged 65 years or older to see if long-term use of a daily multivitamin could provide cognitive benefits.
The answer was the same for all three studies: no.
What the study shows: There is no evidence that vitamins and mineral supplements can help prevent or treat disease. An editorial in the same journal edition didn’t mince words: “Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.”
The journal also concluded that large doses of beta carotene, Vitamin E, and possibly vitamin A are harmful. “Other antioxidants, folic acid and B vitamins, and multivitamin and mineral supplements are ineffective for preventing mortality or morbidity due to major chronic diseases,” the journal concluded. “Although available evidence does not rule out small benefits or harms or large benefits or harms in a small subgroup of the population, 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. These vitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention. Enough is enough.”
Here’s what local experts had to say:
Patients frequently ask Fass if vitamins can help their heart. “My answer is that it probably will not help and most of the time it will not hurt,” he said.
A vitamin is a substance required in very trace amounts in the human body, Fass said. “They are essential,” he said. “The American diet is adequate to make sure we have all the essential vitamins.”
Fass recalled a recent conversation with a patient who was spending a lot of money on over-the-counter vitamins and supplements.
“I told the patient to save the money, buy a treadmill and do exercise – that will do more for your heart than any vitamin,” he said.
“I don’t’ routinely recommend vitamins for my healthy patients with normal diets,” he said.
When patients ask him about vitamins, O’Dowd tells them that there is no clear evidence that they will do any good. Yet when patients tell him that they are taking vitamins, O’Dowd “doesn’t object.”
There are certain patients that he will prescribe vitamins for, he said. They include pregnant women and women nearing menopause, who may have low levels of vitamin D.
O’Dowd likes to ask his patients what kind of vitamins they are taking so he can be aware of possible interactions or dangerous levels.
“I tell them to follow the recommended dose,” he said. “Make sure they buy a brand name, quality vitamin pill.”
Wald believes that many common ills can be traced to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. At his Mount Kisco practice, he uses laboratory and other tests to help individuals figure out their “unique bio-nutritional needs.” He also sells a line of vitamin and mineral supplements. Such supplements can improve health and prevent future illness, he said.
Wald doesn’t think much of the studies in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
“The problem with studies like this is that they are poorly designed,” he said. “They do not base the supplement needed on the actual needs of the participants.”
Based on his years of experience treating people with vitamins and other supplements, Wald said he has no doubt that they are effective against cancer, heart disease, cognitive decline and other conditions.
“We can slow down, prevent and even reverse all those conditions to some extent,” he said.