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Study questions effects of multivitamins

An eight-year study published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine concluded that multivitamin use has little or no influence on the risk of common cancers, heart disease or risk of mortality in postmenopausal women. The study tracked more than 161,000 women's supplement use and cases of eight types of cancer, heart disease and death.

"Based on our results, if you fall into the category of the women described here, and you do in fact have an adequate diet, there really is no reason to take a multivitamin, said the study's co-author Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, Ph.D., of Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, on "It confers no additional benefit but it also does no harm."

The catch is that the majority of Americans fail to consume the recommended amounts of a variety of essential nutrients established by the Institute of Medicine, according to Andrew Shao, Ph.D., vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the Council for Responsible Nutrition.

"There is a strong body of evidence supporting the benefit of many supplemental nutrients," Shao said. "In fact, there are many nutrients for which the evidence base is so robust that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved health claims—for example, calcium and vitamin D to reduce the risk of osteoporosis; folic acid to reduce the risk of neural tube birth defects; plant sterols and stanols to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease—or qualified health claims, such as omega-3 fatty acids to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Supplemental nutrients are only one part of an overall healthy lifestyle that helps maintain health and avoid chronic disease."

"It comes down to diet and expectations," said Anthony Almada, founder and chief scientific officer of Imaginutrition, a nutrition-science think tank in Laguna Niguel, Calif. Almada explained that expecting to live a longer life or avoid cancer by religiously taking a multivitamin is a different matter from experiencing a higher quality of life.

"It creates a conundrum for consumers," Almada said. "If you turn back the hands of time 30 years, you'd find people advocating vitamins E and C and having no human studies against placebos, but people were believers. Now you find people still believing in the face of [these] studies."

The study's authors conclude, "Nutritional efforts should remain a principal focus of chronic disease prevention, but without definitive results from a randomized, controlled trial, multivitamin supplements will not likely play a major role in such prevention methods."

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