Popping a daily multivitamin doesn’t prevent heart attacks, study finds
Do you think of taking a daily multivitamin as a form of “health insurance”? More evidence suggests that you may be wasting your money.
Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard Medical School gave either a multivitamin or a placebo to about 15,000 male physicians, from 1997 to 2011. Over that time, the men who took the vitamin had the same rate of heart attacks, strokes, and other forms of cardiovascular disease as those who took a placebo. The study was published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study’s authors worried that people who take daily multis may think that the vitamins provide enough protection that they don’t need to engage in some healthy behaviors. They also cited concerns about how much money Americans spend on the vitamins. Sales of multivitamins are in the billions each year.
Our medical experts share those concerns. “How much evidence is really needed to convince the millions of Americans who, with military exactitude, pop a daily multivitamin?” says Marvin Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports’ Chief Medical Adviser. “Multiple well-controlled studies involving large populations showing the uselessness of supplemental single vitamins and multivitamins have more than countered the advertising and wishful label claims of those products. We should wake up and realize that, genetics aside, lifestyle changes in our diet and exercise patterns are the prime determinants of good health.”
Last month the same study suggested that multis might help protect against cancer. But as we pointed out then, the benefit was modest at best, and man other studies had failed to find similar results. For details, see our recent report 10 Surprising Dangers of Vitamins.
So we continue to recommend that when possible you get your nutrients from foods. If you do need more of certain nutrients, like calcium and vitamin D, we think it’s usually better to get that from specific supplements rather than from a multi.
People who might need a multivitamin include women who are pregnant, breast-feeding, or trying to conceive; dieters consuming fewer than 1,200 calories a day or cutting out an entire food group (carbs, for example); strict vegetarians; and those with medical conditions that affect digestion and food absorption. For more detailed advice, see our Ratings of multivitamins.
Note that our Ratings found that most of the multis we tested contained what they claimed, so we advise that if you do opt for the pills you choose by price, not brand. Centrum Silver, the brand used in this study, was near the middle of the pack in price. Kirkland Signature Daily Multi (Costco) and Equate Complete Multivitamin (Walmart) were the least expensive.
Multivitamins in the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease in Men: The Physicians’ Health Study II Randomized Controlled Trial