Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Vitamins are a waste of money, studies find

17 Dec 2013

WASHINGTON — There is more disappointing news about multivitamins: Two major studies found popping the pills did not protect ageing men’s brains or help heart attack survivors.

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

The studies released yesterday (Dec 17) are the latest to test if multivitamins might go that extra step and concluded they do not.

“Evidence is sufficient to advise against routine supplementation,” said a sharply worded editorial that accompanied yesterday’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 United States is too much fat and calories, she added.

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

Indeed, the US Preventive Services Task Force is deliberating whether vitamin supplements 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 is not enough evidence to tell. (It did caution that two single supplements, beta-carotene and vitamin E, did not 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 lead a large multivitamin 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 is no substitute for preaching a healthy diet and good behaviours” such as exercise, Dr Sesso cautioned. AP

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