Americans spent nearly $30 billion on vitamins and minerals in 2011; more than half of us take at least one supplement daily. The vitamin regimen is a ritual heartily embraced by the healthy set, and it’s no wonder. For decades we’ve been told that vitamins boost health and may be essential for longevity, maintaining cognitive ability and fighting disease.
But there has been a growing voice of dissent, and now a panel of experts has taken to the pen to write a strongly worded editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine, saying that the case is closed on vitamins and other supplements.
“The message is simple: Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided,” writes the authors, a panel that includes researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, a British researcher and one of the journal’s senior editors.
While many experts continue to recommend the use of folic acid for women with child-bearing potential – and the authors make an exception for supplemental vitamin D, which they say needs further research – for other vitamins and supplements, they say “the case is closed.”
“We have so much information from so many studies,” said Dr. Cynthia Mulrow, senior deputy editor of the journal and one of the authors. “We don’t need a lot more evidence to put this to bed.”
The editorial in the Annals comes along with two new studies also published in the edition; one reports poor results for multivitamins in helping preserve cognitive function and preventing heart attacks. The other found that high-dose vitamins and minerals did not protect cardiovascular patients 50 years and older from having further heart attacks.
Although many consumers believe that regular long-term use of vitamins can prevent heart disease and cancer, it has never been clearly established in clinical trials. The editorial’s authors are not the first to bring attention to the fact.
The Cochrane Collaboration, a publisher of medical reviews, also concluded that taking vitamins does not extend life. And an updated review of the evidence by the United States Preventive Services Task Force also concluded that there was little evidence that vitamin and mineral supplementation could deter disease, notes The New York Times.
The task force did point out that two clinical trials had found slight cancer reductions among men who took multivitamins, but other research has concluded that some supplements may actually increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers, the task force review said, and that high doses of vitamins A and E cause harm and may increase the risk of death.
Dr. Stephen P. Fortmann of the Kaiser Center of Health Research and leader of the task force review, said that those who buy vitamins may be “throwing their money away.”
“Don’t think it makes up for a bad diet, that you can eat a lot of fast food and then take a bunch of supplements,” he added. “That’s not a good idea.”