Taking Various Supplements and Vitamins Will Not Keep You Healthy, Study Finds

A new study casts doubt on whether multivitamins and other dietary supplements are really worth the money in some cases they can even be counterproductive.

Recent research has shown that supplements and multivitamins most people take to boost their health, with a few exceptions, are just a waste of money. Researchers at Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, say the health benefits of these supplements are mainly a placebo, and some may even be counterproductive.

The CDC estimates that Americans spend almost $50 billion on vitamins and nutritional supplements. In 2018, six out of ten Americans routinely use dietary supplements. But the research team says there are no “magic pills to keep you healthy.” Diet and exercise, however, continue to be the key to good health.

Jeffrey Linder, MD, chief of general internal medicine at the Northwestern University, stated in a press statement that patients frequently ask what supplements they should take. He said, “They’re spending their time and energy believing there must be a set of magic drugs that would keep them healthy when we should all be practicing evidence-based eating healthy and regular exercises.”


Certain multivitamin tablets or supplements could ¸even cause cancer

supplement facts on jar of multivitamin complex

Multivitamin tablets are particularly popular due to the variety of essential elements they contain. The Health Food Manufacturers’ Association says over one-third of people feel they do not get all they need through their diet.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force has updated its recommendations on using vitamins and supplements based on an evidence report that included 84 studies. The report, led by Elizabeth A. O’Connor, Ph.D., with the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, OR, was published in a June 21 editorial in the TheJournal of the American Medical Association.

The task force, an independent group of national experts, discovered there was insufficient evidence to support the claim that taking supplements, paired or single multivitamins help prevent cardiovascular disease, including stroke and heart disease, or cancer in healthy, non-pregnant adults. Stroke and cancer are the two major causes of death in the US, and preventative targets for supplements.


“The task force isn’t advocating against the use of multivitamins. If they were truly beneficial, we would have known by now,” Linder explains.

They particularly cautioned against the use of beta-carotene supplements due to a potential rise in the risk of lung cancer.

“The problem is we often miss out on counseling patients about how to reduce cardiovascular risks (like through exercise or smoking cessation) whenever we are discussing supplements with them in the limited time we get to see them,” the study author further states.


Many nutrients found In fruits and vegetables are missing in multivitamins

fresh fruits and vegetables


Writing in JAMA, Dr. Linder and colleagues say more than half of American adults take dubious pills to supplement their arguably unhealthy diets, sometimes based on an ad or advice from a friend. The usage population is expected to increase significantly over the next decade.

Meanwhile, the team explained that eating fruits and vegetables lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer and ups the odds of a longer and healthier life. To avoid the hassle and expense of maintaining a balanced diet, it makes sense to assume that essential vitamins and minerals might be extracted and put into a pill. Sadly, scientists note that whole fruits and vegetables contain a variety of vitamins, plant compounds, fiber, and other elements that likely work together to improve your health.

Specific Recommendations

Micronutrients may behave differently in the body when consumed alone than when they are naturally combined with a variety of other dietary ingredients. Data from the new report suggests that multivitamins may have a slight chance of extending life, but that evidence is unreliable, vague, and open to various interpretations.


Dr. Linder notes that some people can benefit from taking dietary vitamins or supplements, including those who are deficient in calcium or vitamin D. Previous studies revealed they can prevent falls and fractures in older adults. While doctors agree that taking melatonin pills in the right amounts can help people who have trouble falling asleep, they shouldn’t be considered the only option or a cure-all.

Pregnant women exempted

pregnant women at antenatal class

The revised guideline does not apply to expectant mothers as they may need supplements under the direction of a physician.

“The guidelines is not applicable to pregnant women,” adds co-author Dr. Natalie Cameron, a Northwestern University teacher of general internal medicine. “For proper fetal growth, pregnant women need certain vitamins, such as folic acid. Taking a prenatal vitamin is the most typical strategy to achieve these requirements. More information is, however, required to fully understand how specific vitamin supplementation may alter the risk of unfavorable pregnancy outcomes and cardiovascular problems during pregnancy.”


Overcoming the cost of eating healthy

Recent studies have shown that most American women have poor heart health before pregnancy. According to Dr. Cameron, prenatal care should include discussions of vitamin supplements and cardiovascular health optimization. But eating healthy can be difficult when American food manufacturers prioritize processed products that are high in fat, sugar, and salt.

Co-author Dr. Jenny Jia observes that “adopting a balanced diet and exercising more is easier said than done, especially among lower-income Americans.” “People sometimes can’t afford a facility, and healthy food is expensive. What can we do to support healthy choices and strive to make it easier?

Dr. Jia has been collaborating with charitable food pantries and banks that provide free groceries to assist people in making healthier choices and to encourage donors to provide money or more nutritious options.


New recommendations

The new recommendations specifically advise against taking beta carotene and vitamin E supplements to prevent cancer or cardiovascular disease. The recommendations are consistent with previous research, such as a 2019 review of 277 clinical trials that concluded that most vitamins and supplements do not improve heart health or help people live longer. “The magic bullet or panacea that people keep looking for dietary supplements isn’t there,” said Erin Michos, MD, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the study’s senior author.

 Final thoughts

Michos concluded that “people should concentrate on getting nutrients from a healthy diet because the data increasingly show that most healthy adults need not take supplements.”

The National Institute on Aging advised that “most, if not all, of your daily minerals and vitamins, should come from food. You can ask your dietitian or doctor if you need to supplement your diet.”


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