A new study that charmed commuters tuning in to NPR revealed that long-term multivitamin use cut the risk of death by cardiovascular disease – in women, but not in men.
The study followed almost 9,000 adults older than age 40, starting between 1988 and 1994. Twenty years later, they checked back in on the supplement takers and found that women who consumed the multivitamin/mineral supplements for more than three years had a significantly reduced incidence of death by various forms of cardiovascular disease.
Researchers said they controlled for age, race, education, body mass index (a measure of obesity), alcohol consumption, aspirin use, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and blood-sugar levels.
Despite researchers controlling for all these factors, the NPR story (listen to it here) still couldn’t help itself and posed the rhetorical question: “Was it the result of healthy living instead of the multivitamin?”
Nutrition expert Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D., from the nutrition department at Tufts University in Boston, noted on NPR that multivitamins do fill nutrient gaps. This is sort of the lowest-hanging of all the fruits for why people should take multivitamins – because nobody’s making a disease claim about the ability of multivitamins to prevent diseases. And after all, half our plates are supposed to be filled with fruits and vegetables -- a total of nine per day. But we eat only one a day. And, according to a 2012 study by the NPD Group, Americans eat at least 70 percent of the daily recommended intake of grains, proteins, fruits and vegetables only two – count ’em, two – percent of the time.
“Everybody should eat better, but if you’re not it’s a very prudent thing for most people to choose to take a multivitamin,” said Blumberg on NPR.
All is not lost for men!
But take heart, men. A previous multivitamin study on 27,658 subjects found a lower cancer incidence in men taking a multivitamin for more than 10 years. For women? No difference.
This hypothesis was replicated in a study amongst a large cohort of well-nourished American physicians taking a relatively low-quality Centrum multivitamin.
To be fair, the study found that those with no parental history of cancer had a more significantly beneficial effect of taking the multivitamin, whereas those with a family history of cancer experienced no benefit of all. Interestingly, men with a history of cancer in themselves and not their parents had a significantly greater effect with the multivitamin than those without. Conclusion: If your parents did not have cancer, but you did, you will benefit most from a multivitamin. Go figure. (We did.)
Research into the health benefits of multivitamins – and most definitely single-nutrients from letter vitamins to specialty vitamins such as omega-3s and probiotics – will continue apace. Which makes the nutrition science field a continuing source of excitement.