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Scientists Say Multivitamins Don't Prevent Heart Disease

Researchers found no significant effect of taking a daily multivitamin in preventing cardiovascular disease.

Vitamins-- by Suzanne Boothby

The Gist

A daily multivitamin might help with nutritional deficiencies, but as it turns out, the supplement does not help with heart disease.

Middle-aged physicians who took a daily multivitamin for more than 10 years saw no reduction in heart attacks, stroke, or death from cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to a randomized study in JAMA.

The Physicians' Health Study (PHS) II is the only large-scale, randomized, placebo-controlled trial looking at the impact of long-term multivitamin use on the risk of major cardiovascular events and cancer.

About 40 percent of Americans take multivitamins making them the most popular supplement, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Expert Take

This new data confirms that cardiovascular disease cannot be prevented or treated with vitamins.

“Many people with heart disease risk factors or previous CVD events lead sedentary lifestyles, eat processed or fast foods, continue to smoke, and stop taking lifesaving prescribed medications, but purchase and regularly use vitamins and other dietary supplements, in the hope that this approach will prevent a future myocardial infarction or stroke,” wrote Eva M. Lonn, M.D., of McMaster University and Hamilton General Hospital, Hamilton, in Ontario, Canada, in an accompanying editorial for the study.

The message needs to remain simple and focused: CVD is largely preventable, and this can be achieved by eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, avoiding tobacco products, and, for those with high risk factor levels or previous CVD events, taking proven, safe, and effective medications, according to Lonn.

The benefits of multivitamins were also questioned in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which didn’t recommend them due to insufficient evidence that they help prevent chronic disease.

Source and Method

Researches at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School analyzed data from the PHS, which began in 1997 and offered continued treatment and follow-up through June 1, 2011. The almost 15,000 male participants were randomized to multivitamin or placebo, and about 750 of the men had a history of CVD. 

The Takeaway

Taking a daily multivitamin is not significantly associated with a reduction in CVD. However, healthy changes to diet and lifestyle are still recommended for those looking to reduce their risk of developing heart problems.

Other Research 

The same study did find that those taking daily multivitamins experienced 8 percent fewer cancers than those taking placebos. The study’s authors said they believe this reduction is small but statistically significant.

Results from the Iowa Women’s Health Study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that multivitamin use was linked to a slightly increased risk of earlier mortality.

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Tags: Awareness , Drugs , Latest Studies & Research

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The Healthline Editorial team writes about the latest health news, policy, and research.