Vitamin supplements are a ‘waste of money’ | Sunday Observer

Vitamin supplements are a ‘waste of money’

26 June, 2022

Multivitamins are a waste of money for most people and there’s little proof they prevent chronic illnesses.

That’s according to a new report by the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent panel of experts.

Scientists said supplements are pointless for healthy people because there’s not enough evidence they reduce the risk of heart disease or cancer.

The booming supplement industry sees Britons spend £430 million a year on vitamin or mineral pills, with an estimated 20 million taking some form of supplement every day. 

More than half the population take supplements regularly in the US, spending $1.5 billion (£1.2bn) annually.

Many claim to be able to reduce the risk of heart problems and cancer, based on results from small studies.

But the new meta analysis of dozens of research papers found there is no evidence to support the claims.

It has issued a particular warning about beta carotene, a popular immune-boosting supplement, which the review found might actually cause harm.

However, the report noted individuals who have a vitamin deficiency can still benefit from taking dietary supplements, such as calcium and vitamin D, which have been shown to prevent fractures and maybe falls in older adults. 

Eating fruits and vegetables is associated with decreased cardiovascular disease and cancer risk, Researchers said.

So it is reasonable to think key vitamins and minerals could be extracted and packaged into a pill, saving the trouble and expense of maintaining a balanced diet.

But whole fruits and vegetables contain a mixture of vitamins, plant chemicals, fibre and other nutrients that probably boost health by acting together, they explained.

Micronutrients in isolation may act differently in the body than when naturally packaged with a host of other dietary components.

Some studies have suggested that certain vitamins, such as vitamins C and E, may reduce heart disease risk.

Vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene contain antioxidants once thought to help reduce cancer.

As part of the new USPSTF report, scientists looked at 84 studies of vitamin E, vitamin A, beta carotene and multivitamins.

Vitamin E - which is usually found in nuts and seeds and help maintain healthy skin and eyes - studies showed the supplement had no effect on either getting or dying with cardiovascular disease or cancer. 

Trials in people who smoked or were exposed to asbestos showed an 18 per cent higher risk of lung cancer in those who took beta carotene, compared to those who did not.

Beta carotene is a red-orange pigment found in carrots and tomatoes thought to boost skin health.

It stimulates the body to produce more vitamin A, which is important for vision, growth, cell division and immunity.

Overall, the review found there is ‘insufficient evidence’ for using any multivitamins for treating cancer or heart disease, the report concluded. 

But the team said pregnant women could still benefit from taking vitamins like folic acid that help healthy fetal development, as well as people who are deficient in certain vitamins.

Scientists from Northwestern University, in Illinois, backed the new guideline in an editorial in JAMA, telling people to stop searching for a ‘magic set of pills’ to solve their medical woes.

Dr. Jeffrey Linder, chief of general medicine at Northwestern, said: ‘Patients ask all the time: “What supplements should I be taking?”

‘They’re wasting money and focus thinking there has to be a magic set of pills that will keep them healthy when we should all be following the evidence-based practices of eating healthy and exercising.

‘The task force is not saying “don’t take multivitamins”, but there’s this idea that if these were really good for you, we’d know by now.’

He added: ‘Rather than focusing money, time, and attention on supplements, it would be better to emphasize lower-risk, higher-benefit activities.’ 

But Dr. Natalie Cameron, an instructor of general internal medicine at Northwestern University, said vitamin supplementation and optimising cardiovascular health prior to pregnancy is an important component of pre-natal care.

She said: ‘Pregnant women should keep in mind that these guidelines don’t apply to them.

‘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 is needed to understand how specific vitamin supplementation may modify risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes and cardiovascular complications during pregnancy.’