Multivitamins May Not Help As Much As Believed

Multivitamin and dietary supplement use for heart disease and cancer prevention lacks sufficient evidence

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Multivitamins and dietary supplements are common among adults in the United States. But these vitamins and supplements might not be as beneficial as people thought.

The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recently announced that there is not enough evidence to determine the effectiveness of taking vitamins and minerals to prevent heart disease and cancer.

The Task Force suggested that healthcare professionals should use their best judgment and consider their patients' health history and opinions when discussing whether or not to take vitamins and minerals.

"Talk to your doctor before taking any vitamins or supplements."

The lead author of this updated recommendation was Task Force chair Virginia Moyer, MD, MPH, from the American Board of Pediatrics, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

This recommendation only applies to healthy adults 50 years of age and older who do not have special nutritional needs. The Task Force specified that this recommendation does not apply to children, pregnant women, people with a chronic condition, hospital patients and people who have a known nutritional deficiency.

In 2003, the Task Force had concluded that there was not enough evidence to recommend or advise against the use of vitamins A, C or E, multivitamins with folic acid or antioxidant combinations for preventing heart disease and cancer. They also advised against the use of beta-carotene — both by itself or in a combination — for prevention of heart disease and cancer.

The recent update recommended against vitamin E and beta-carotene because there was new evidence that showed vitamin E to be ineffective for heart disease and cancer prevention.

“The evidence shows that there is no benefit to taking vitamin E and that beta-carotene can be harmful because it increases the risk of lung cancer in people who are already at increased risk for the disease,” explained co-author and Task Force co-chair Michael LeFevre, MD, MSPH.

In addition to the vitamins and supplements examined in 2003, the current recommendation examined new evidence on the effectiveness of vitamin D, calcium, selenium and folic acid; although the evidence on the new supplements proved inconclusive as well.

Dr. Moyer and team concluded that a balanced diet is the best way to get important vitamins and minerals that are essential for health.

Previous evidence has linked heart disease and cancer prevention to a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products and seafood.

The Task Force believes that more research is needed on multivitamin combinations for cancer prevention.

This update was published on February 24 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Review Date: 
February 24, 2014
Last Updated:
February 24, 2014