CHICAGO— The vitamins and supplements that countless people take to improve their health are just a waste of money, according to a new study. Researchers at Northwestern University say their health benefits reside primarily in the mind, and some may even do more harm than good.
According to the CDC, nearly six in 10 Americans regularly took dietary supplements in 2018. Last year, Americans spent nearly $50 billion on vitamins and supplements. However, the research team says there is no “magic set of pills to keep you healthy”. Instead, diet and exercise are still the key to good health.
“Patients ask all the time, ‘What supplements should I take?'” says lead author Dr. Jeffrey Linder of Northwestern University, in a press release.
“They waste money and get carried away thinking there must be some magic set of pills that will keep them healthy when we should all be following the evidence-based practices of healthy eating and bodybuilding. exercise”,
Some supplements may cause cancer, not prevent it
Multivitamin tablets are especially popular because they contain a blend of a dozen essential nutrients. The Health Food Manufacturers Association says more than a third of people feel they don’t get everything they need from their diet.
However, the systematic review of 84 studies found “insufficient evidence” that taking multivitamins, paired or single supplements prevents cardiovascular disease and cancer. A team from the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent expert panel that makes evidence-based recommendations, conducted this review.
“The task force doesn’t say ‘don’t take multivitamins,’ but there’s this idea that if they were really good for you, we would know by now,” says Linder.
They specifically advise against taking beta-carotene supplements due to an increased risk of lung cancer.
“The harm is that talking to patients about supplements during the very limited time we have to see them misses guidance on how to really reduce cardiovascular risk, such as through exercise or quitting smoking,” continues the author of the study.
There’s a special combination in your fruits and vegetables
write in JAMA, Dr. Linder and his colleagues say that more than half of American adults take vitamins and supplements, with their popularity expected to increase dramatically over the next decade. According to the team, the consumption of fruits and vegetables leads to a decrease in cardiovascular disease and the risk of cancer.
So it’s reasonable to think that essential vitamins and minerals could be extracted and packaged into a pill, avoiding the hassle and expense of maintaining a balanced diet. Unfortunately, researchers explain that whole fruits and vegetables contain a mix of vitamins, plant chemicals, fiber, and other nutrients that likely combine to boost your health.
Isolated micronutrients may act differently in the body than when naturally packaged with a host of other food components. Dr. Linder notes that people who are deficient in vitamins can still benefit from taking dietary supplements such as calcium and vitamin D. Previous studies have shown that they can prevent fractures and falls in older people. .
The revised guidelines do not apply to women who are pregnant or planning to start a family.
“Pregnant women should keep in mind that these guidelines do not apply to them,” says co-author Dr. Natalie Cameron, a professor of general internal medicine at Northwestern.
“Certain vitamins, such as folic acid, are essential for pregnant women to support healthy fetal development. The most common way to meet these needs is to take a prenatal vitamin. More data are needed to understand how supplementation with specific vitamins may modify the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes and cardiovascular complications during pregnancy.
Overcome the cost of healthy eating
Recent research has found that most women in the United States had poor heart health before becoming pregnant. Dr. Cameron says discussing vitamin supplementation and optimizing cardiovascular health before pregnancy is an important part of prenatal care. However, healthy eating can be a challenge when US food manufacturers focus on processed products containing fat, sugar and salt.
“Making a healthy diet and getting more exercise is easier said than done, especially among low-income Americans,” notes co-author Dr. Jenny Jia.
“Healthy eating is expensive, and people can’t always afford to find environments to exercise – maybe it’s dangerous outside or they can’t afford it. to afford an installation. So what can we do to try to make things easier and help make healthier decisions? »
Dr. Jia has worked with food pantries and charity banks that provide free groceries to help people make healthier choices and encourage donors to offer healthier options or money.
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.