Vitamins & Supplements: Don’t Waste Your Money
If you’re among the majority of Americans (52%) who take at least one vitamin or dietary supplement daily, odds are good you’re wasting your money. A large review of findings from 277 clinical trials finds the vast majority of these pills and potions, including multivitamins, don’t improve heart health or help you live longer.
The findings are no surprise. Despite the $40 billion or more spent on vitamins and supplements each year in the U.S., multiple studies have questioned their effectiveness, and most supplements are not regulated—meaning you may or may not be getting what you think you’re buying, and few if any respectable studies have been done on their safety or effectiveness.
Other than for specific medical conditions, as prescribed by a physician, it’s becoming clear that the far better path to good health is a balanced diet, with emphasis on fruits and vegetables, experts say.
“The panacea or magic bullet that people keep searching for in dietary supplements isn’t there,” says the new study’s senior author, Erin Michos, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “People should focus on getting their nutrients from a heart-healthy diet, because the data increasingly show that the majority of healthy adults don’t need to take supplements.”
The new study, detailed in Annals of Internal Medicine, finds that most of the more than a dozen vitamins and supplements studied didn’t cause harm. But only a handful showed possible health benefits: omega-3 fatty acid (fish oil) and possibly folic acid, for some people.
Importantly, the scientists also find that supplements combining calcium and vitamin D might increased stroke risk.
The vitamins and supplements reviewed:
- vitamin A
- beta carotene
- vitamin B-complex
- vitamin B3/niacin
- vitamin B6
- vitamin C
- vitamin E
- vitamin D alone
- calcium alone
- calcium and vitamin D together
- folic acid
- omega-3 fatty acid
The study also reviewed several diets:
- Mediterranean diet
- reduced saturated fat (less fats from meat and dairy) diet
- modified dietary fat intake (less saturated fat or replacing calories with more unsaturated fats or carbohydrates)
- reduced-fat diet
- low-salt diet in healthy people and those with high blood pressure
- increased alpha linolenic acid (ALA) diet (nuts, seeds and vegetable oils)
- increased omega-6 fatty acid diet (nuts, seeds and vegetable oils)
Of all those, only the low-salt diet showed possible health benefits, the researchers say.
While further research might refine some of the findings, and it’s not unheard of for scientific thinking, and the associated health advice, to be reversed, at the very least this large study, along with others of late, casts significant doubt on an industry that relies on anecdotal word-of-mouth tales (“It worked for me!”) and expansive marketing campaigns.
The main message from Michos and her colleagues: Save your money.
You can read more about the findings in this press release. Also, I’ve written about supplements before. These two stories dig deeper into their risks and effectiveness:
5 Dirty Little Secrets of ‘Natural’ Supplements
The supplement industry preys on consumer naïveté, hawking products with mystery ingredients that often don’t work and…