Do vitamins block disease? Some disappointing news

by Lauran Neergaard

There's more disappointing news about multivitamins: Two major studies found popping the pills did not protect aging men's brains or help heart attack survivors.

Millions of people spend billions of dollars on vitamin combinations, presumably to boost their health and fill gaps in their diets. But while people who don't eat enough of certain nutrients may be urged to get them in pill form, the government doesn't recommend routine vitamin supplementation as a way to prevent chronic diseases.

The studies released Monday are the latest to test if multivitamins might go that extra step and concluded they don't.

"Evidence is sufficient to advise against routine supplementation," said a sharply worded editorial that accompanied Monday's findings in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

After all, most people who buy multivitamins and other supplements are generally healthy, said journal deputy editor Dr. Cynthia Mulrow. Even junk foods often are fortified with vitamins, while the main nutrition problem in the U.S. is too much fat and calories, she added.

But other researchers say the jury's still out, especially for the most commonly used dietary supplement—multivitamins that are taken by about a third of U.S. adults, and even more people over the age of 50.

Indeed, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is deliberating whether make any difference in the average person's risk of heart disease or cancer. In a draft proposal last month, the government advisory group said for standard multivitamins and certain other nutrients, there's not enough evidence to tell. (It did caution that two single supplements, beta-carotene and vitamin E, didn't work). A final decision is expected next year.

"For better or for worse, supplementation's not going to go away," said Dr. Howard Sesso of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. He helps leads a large study that has had mixed results—suggesting small benefits for some health conditions but not others—and says more research is needed, especially among the less healthy.

Still, "there's no substitute for preaching a healthy diet and good behaviors" such as exercise, Sesso cautioned.

As scientists debate, here are some questions and answers to consider in the vitamin aisle:

Q: Why the new focus on multivitamins?

A: Multivitamins have grown more popular in recent years as research showed that taking high doses of single supplements could be risky, such as beta-carotene.

Multivitamins typically contain no more than 100 percent of the daily recommended amount of various nutrients. They're marketed as sort of a safety net for nutrition gaps; the industry's Council for Responsible Nutrition says they're taken largely for general wellness.

Q: What are the latest findings?

A: With Alzheimer's on the rise as the population ages, Harvard researchers wondered if long-term multivitamin use might help keep older brains agile. They examined a subset of nearly 6,000 male doctors, age 65 or older, who were part of a larger study. The men were given either multivitamins or dummy pills, without knowing which they were taking.

After a decade of pill use, the vitamin-takers fared no better on memory or other cognitive tests, Sesso's team reported Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

Q: Did that Harvard study find any other benefit from multivitamins?

A: The results of the Physicians Health Study II have been mixed. Overall it enrolled about 15,000 health male doctors age 50 and older, and the vitamin-takers had a slightly lower risk of cancer—8 percent. Diet and exercise are more protective. They also had a similarly lower risk of developing cataracts, common to aging eyes. But the vitamins had no effect the risk for heart disease or another eye condition, Sesso said.

Q: Might vitamins have a different effect on people who already have heart disease?

A: As part of a broader treatment study, a separate research team asked that question. They examined 1,700 survivors, mostly men, who were given either a special multivitamin containing higher-than-usual doses of 28 ingredients or dummy pills. But the vitamins didn't reduce the chances of another heart attack, other cardiovascular problems, or death.

Q: What about women?

A: Research involving postmenopausal women a few years ago also concluded multivitamins did not prevent cancer or . But it was not nearly as rigorous a study as Monday's research, relying on women to recall what vitamins they used.

Q: What's the safety advice for multivitamin users?

A: The preventive services task force cited no safety issues with standard multivitamins. But specialists say to always tell your doctor what over-the-counter supplements you use. Some vitamins interact with some medications, and Sesso said anyone worried about nutrition should be discussing their diet with their doctor anyway.

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Jim4321
1 / 5 (2) Dec 16, 2013
Risk of cancer and cataracts reduced by about 8%. If true, this has huge positive public health implications. Think of the suffering that would be avoided if the incidence of cancer could be reduced by 10%.
HealingMindN
3 / 5 (3) Dec 16, 2013
What Harvard Study? According to the Harvard School of Public Health: " A daily multivitamin, and maybe an extra vitamin D supplement, is a good way to make sure you're getting all the nutrients you need to be healthy. True, a healthy diet should provide nearly all the nutrients you need. But many people don't eat the healthiest of diets. That's why a multivitamin can help fill in the gaps, and may have added health benefits..." http://www.hsph.h...itamins/
Shootist
3 / 5 (2) Dec 16, 2013
What Harvard Study? According to the Harvard School of Public Health: " A daily multivitamin, and maybe an extra vitamin D supplement, is a good way to make sure you're getting all the nutrients you need to be healthy. True, a healthy diet should provide nearly all the nutrients you need. But many people don't eat the healthiest of diets. That's why a multivitamin can help fill in the gaps, and may have added health benefits..." http://www.hsph.h...itamins/


Physicians have known the truth for 50 years. (multi)Vitamins do damned little considering the businesses (general nutrition (GNC) I'm looking at you, Flintstones, et. al.) bilking customers of billion$ for what amounts to placebo and snake oil.
Sinister1812
not rated yet Dec 16, 2013
Physicians have known the truth for 50 years. (multi)Vitamins do damned little considering the businesses (general nutrition (GNC) I'm looking at you, Flintstones, et. al.) bilking customers of billion$ for what amounts to placebo and snake oil.


Couldn't agree more. It's all marketing and making money from something that no one really needs anyway. But some people believe anything these days.
Shakescene21
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 17, 2013


"After all, most people who buy multivitamins and other supplements are generally healthy, said journal deputy editor Dr. Cynthia Mulrow. Even junk foods often are fortified with vitamins"

The medical industry hates vitamins because they don't make any money off wellness. Sick people are their bread and butter, not healthy people.
So listen to your doctor and stay away from vitamin pills...get your vitamins at McDonald's.
Sinister1812
not rated yet Dec 17, 2013
The medical industry hates vitamins because they don't make any money off wellness.


Exactly. And you notice how they only treat symptoms these days, and not the actual diseases? More profitable (for them).
EnricM
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 17, 2013
Risk of cancer and cataracts reduced by about 8%. If true, this has huge positive public health implications. Think of the suffering that would be avoided if the incidence of cancer could be reduced by 10%.


the problem (cited somewhere in the articles) is that the population was of the test was not random and that the fact that there is a correlation between the two variables can be influenced by other factors.

One of the influencing factors may be that the people who usually takes vitamin supplements is also people who tend to pay more attention to their health and nutrition and the observed 8% correlation may not be causal but related to a better nutrition and general health.
Jim4321
3 / 5 (2) Dec 17, 2013
@EnricM

I don't have access to the full article. However, as far as I can tell from the news release and abstract the study is randomized, double blinded and placebo controlled(an RCT). This would control some the bias that you noted. Personally, I would worry more about the multiple end points and whether the statistics were correctly applied.

Repeating the results for those interested:

"Q: Did that Harvard study find any other benefit from multivitamins?

A: The results of the Physicians Health Study II have been mixed. Overall it enrolled about 15,000 health male doctors age 50 and older, and the vitamin-takers had a slightly lower risk of cancer—8 percent. Diet and exercise are more protective. They also had a similarly lower risk of developing cataracts, common to aging eyes. But the vitamins had no effect the risk for heart disease or another eye condition, Sesso said."

swordsman
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 17, 2013
Physicians do not generally have the background and capability to make such studies. Certainly, they know a great deal about medicine, but this is a historical study that involves more than medicine itself. How many physicians prescribe vitamins? Mine don't. In fact they look down on it, and yet they have little or no experience with it. How can they know whether or not a vitamin helped prevent a medical condition? I can thank my eyesight to vitamins, which my doctors advised me not to take. These vitamins are finally recognized as saving eyesight. Multivitamins contain many essential ingredients such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium and iodine. Zinc helps prevent certain contagious diseases such as colds. Potassium offset taking too much salt. Table salt that you buy in the store may have added essential iodine. Folic acid is recommended for certain diseases. You may find such additives recommended for other medical conditions. Stop taking it if you wish, but beware!
Noumenon
3 / 5 (3) Dec 17, 2013
The medical industry hates vitamins because they don't make any money off wellness.

Exactly. And you notice how they only treat symptoms these days, and not the actual diseases? More profitable (for them).


Well which is it, either vitamins are "something that no one really needs anyway", or something the "medical industry hates" because it causes "wellness".
Noumenon
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 17, 2013
However, as far as I can tell from the news release and abstract the study is randomized, double blinded and placebo controlled(an RCT). This would control some the bias that you noted.


Not really, ....because the group of men followed in the study were all physicians with no health problems, who as physicians, are more likely to Exercise and obtain their daily vitamins from a Healthy Diet. They are not likely representative of everyone.

while people who don't eat enough of certain nutrients may be urged to get them in pill form, the government doesn't recommend routine vitamin supplementation as a way to prevent chronic diseases. - above article


Just because it is better to Exercise and obtain vitamins from Fruit and Vegetables and a proper diet, does not mean that vitamins supplements do not have benefits for people who don't follow the ideal recommendations.
Noumenon
3 / 5 (3) Dec 17, 2013
Q: Might vitamins have a different effect on people who already have heart disease?

A: As part of a broader treatment study, a separate research team asked that question. They examined 1,700 heart attack survivors, mostly men, who were given either a special multivitamin containing higher-than-usual doses of 28 ingredients or dummy pills. But the vitamins didn't reduce the chances of another heart attack, other cardiovascular problems, or death.


What is not reported on here is that, in the above study they had a very high participation drop-out rate,.... "with more than 50% of patients stopping their medications, it was difficult for authors to come to any real conclusions about the vitamins' effectiveness".
truthisoutthere
3 / 5 (1) Dec 18, 2013
SYNTHETIC ''vitamins and minerals'' of course are not going to benefit the human body. BIG difference between SYNTHETIC compounds and nature made. Know your supplements and always opt for wholefood based formulas. Of course synthetic drugs are safer and more beneficial. Laugh.
Sinister1812
not rated yet Dec 21, 2013
The medical industry hates vitamins because they don't make any money off wellness.

Exactly. And you notice how they only treat symptoms these days, and not the actual diseases? More profitable (for them).


Well which is it, either vitamins are "something that no one really needs anyway", or something the "medical industry hates" because it causes "wellness".


The only reason anyone would need extra vitamins is if they weren't getting enough from food already. There are too many advertisements these days for multivitamins (and different brands) which they promise stops cancer, arthritis, diabetes, cold/flu etc.
Newbeak
5 / 5 (1) Dec 21, 2013
I can't see multivitamins affecting rates of cancer/heart disease,because they only provide the micronutrients you would get from a well balanced diet.Maybe certain individual vitamins are beneficial in larger than normal amounts.C,for example,is likely taken in suboptimal amounts,only enough to prevent scurvy.Primates consume 13-15 thousand grams of C daily from dietary sources,and like people,they cannot synthesize C.
Newbeak
5 / 5 (1) Dec 21, 2013
Sorry,that should read 13 - 15 grams a day from their diets.
adam_russell_9615
not rated yet Dec 22, 2013
Vitamins were never claimed to do any such thing. The only thing multi-vitamins are good for is filling possible gaps in your diet.

Newbeak
not rated yet Dec 22, 2013
The article claims they were believed to possibly prevent chronic diseases:
``There's more disappointing news about multivitamins: Two major studies found popping the pills did not protect aging men's brains or help heart attack survivors``.
There was a medical doctor in the thirties that claimed to cure polio infections with intravenous injections of mega-doses of sodium ascorbate: https://en.wikipe..._Klenner

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