hand holding a vitamin

Study declaring no heart benefit for multivitamins ignores the intended use, critics say

A meta-analysis finds that multivitamins do not lessen the risk of cardiovascular disease, but supplement industry figures say that preventing heart disease was never the intent of them.

A new published study charging that multivitamins do not lessen the risk of cardiovascular disease raises a question for the researchers that the industry is eager to ask: “Who said they did?”

That was the immediate response to the study published July 8 in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes and based on a meta-analysis of 18 studies. Lead researcher Joonseok Kim was quoted in an American Heart Association report saying, “It has been exceptionally difficult to convince people, including nutritional researchers, to acknowledge that multivitamin and mineral supplements don’t prevent cardiovascular diseases,” but Duffy McKay, senior vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs Council for Responsible Nutrition was quick to point out that preventing heart disease is not a benefit that CRN and others are claiming for the biggest category in the supplement industry. “Multivitamins fill nutrient gaps in our less-than-perfect diets and support a host of other physiological functions, but they are not intended to serve as magic bullets for the prevention of serious diseases,” McKay said in a statement released by CRN.

In the American Heart Association report, Kim took it further, saying that “I hope our study findings help decrease the hype around multivitamin and mineral supplements and encourage people to use proven methods to reduce their risk of cardiovascular diseases,” but again, McKay pointed out that the supplement industry has consistently recommended a holistic approach to health that includes diet and fitness. “Consumers need to pursue a lifetime of many healthy habits to maintain a healthy heart,” McKay said.

Karen Howard, executive director at the Organic and Natural Health Association, echoed McKay’s thoughts but also points out that it is time to stop giving weight to meta-analyses, explaining that such studies are inherently flawed. The studies are not designed similarly, making them impossible to group together. In a Whole Foods Magazine guest piece responding to a different study questioning vitamins, Howard called it an “apples to artichokes” comparison. Asked about the Circulation study, Howard said: “It’s time stop looking at these meta-analyses and start demanding a standard of research that fits the needs.”

Howard’s association is working with Grassroots Health to recruit thousands of subjects for field trials that study the effect of nutrient levels in the blood to tease out the health effects.

Concerns like Howard’s and McKay’s did not appear in mainstream media coverage of the cardiovascular study. A CBS News headline read: “Multivitamins a waste of money for heart health, researchers say.” The tech times headline included the words “Stop Spending Money On Multivitamins.”

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