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Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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Should You Take a Multivitamin?

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Surprising new research suggests possible harm from this common supplement

Many of us, myself included, have considered our multivitamin as an integral part of starting the day as washing our face and brushing our teeth. In fact, as many as half of us take some type of supplement daily, to the tune of nearly $25 billion dollars every year in the U.S. alone. Although most adults eat far more calories than are necessary, many people may not include sufficient amounts of important vitamins and nutrients, including vitamins A and C, and calcium in their diets. That’s why a multivitamin seems to make sense.

Tracking the Health of Vitamin Users

In 2009, the Women’s Health Initiative published results of a study of multivitamin use in over 160,000 women, more than 41 percent of whom took multivitamins regularly. They studied the women for eight years, and tracked the incidence of several different cancers, as well as cardiovascular disease and death. As reported in Archives of Internal Medicine, none of these measures differed significantly between multivitamin users and non-users.

Subsequently, in April 2011 the results of the Multiethnic Cohorts Study of over 180,000 men were published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. This study also looked at multivitamin use. After monitoring the men for 11 years, the multivitamin users had no advantage in terms of cancer, heart disease, or overall death rate.

In case we needed more convincing, the October 10, 2011 edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine reported similar findings from the Iowa Women’s Health Study. In this group of over 38,000 women, there actually appeared to be a very small (2.5%), but statistically significant increase in the risk of mortality for women who took multivitamins regularly. Supplements of vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc, and copper also seemed to confer a small but meaningful risk.

What These Studies Mean for You

This doesn’t mean that you should stop prescriptions for these nutrients, since the study was strictly looking at supplements, and not doctor-prescribed doses. In particular, many people require iron and magnesium to treat medical conditions. Others may take medications that deplete folic acid, in which case a supplement may be essential. However, if you are taking any supplement, it makes sense to check in with your doctor and find out if it is really necessary, and if so, just how much you really need. To get all the nutrients your body requires, your best bet is a heart smart Mediterranean diet.

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Tags: Supplements

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About the Author


MD, FACC

Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.

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