It seems that many (if not most) of our patients are taking multi-vitamins, a multibillion dollar proposition. The quest that we have is simple: Do most people need them? Do most people derive any benefit from a daily vitamin? Or, are multi-vitamins pretty expensive placebos- not harmful maybe but of questionable effectiveness?
A very nice new study begins to provide some answers. Research in the American Journal of Epidemiology looked at the relationship between multi-vitamins and heart disease and cancer. Are multi-vitamins protective against the two most common killers of people in developed countries? The study looked at 180,000 people, 80,000 men and 100,000 women, over an 11 year period, an exceedingly large, rigorous and important study. The results showed that in fact there was no positive association between using multi-vitamins and lowering your risk at heart attack or cancer.
The researchers didn’t find any particular medical harm in taking a multi-vitamin, but when you think about their cost, supplements can easily range from a few to hundreds of dollars, month after month, year after year. That’s a significant enough amount of money, and at this point at least, we don’t have any proof that the multi-vitamins make a difference for preventing cancer or heart attacks.
This study is just another contribution to an emerging body of evidence that if you eat a balanced diet, and unless you have some type of deficiency or other real reason for taking them, multi-vitamins may not be helpful.