Americans spent almost 50 billion dollars on vitamins and dietary supplements in 2021. However, a new study published in JAMA shows that most have that money may be for naught. After reviewing 84 studies, the researchers concluded that taking multivitamins does not reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease for most Americans.
“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,” explained study lead author Dr. Jeffrey Linder of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
The researchers specifically warn against beta carotene supplements, as they can increase the risk of lung cancer. Instead, Linder says that doctors should stress other ways to help their patients lead a healthy lifestyle.
“The harm is that talking with patients about supplements during the very limited time we get to see them, we’re missing out on counseling about how to really reduce cardiovascular risks, like through exercise or smoking cessation.”
The authors believe eating lots of fruits and vegetables is the best way to combat cardiovascular disease. Eating whole foods provides the body with vitamins, phytochemicals, fiber, and other nutrients that work together for a healthy body.
However, vitamins are necessary for some segments of society. “Pregnant individuals should keep in mind that these guidelines don’t apply to them,” said study co-author Dr. Natalie Cameron. “Certain vitamins, such as folic acid, are essential for pregnant women to support healthy fetal development.”
Dr. Jenny Jia noted that the reality of living a healthy lifestyle can be challenging, especially for lower-income individuals. “Healthy food is expensive, and people don’t always have the means to find environments to exercise – maybe it’s unsafe outdoors or they can’t afford a facility. So, what can we do to try to make it easier and help support healthier decisions?”
She believes the answer may lie in encouraging food pantries to encourage their patrons to pick healthier choices and donors to provide more nutritious food choices.
So, for those who aim to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer, perhaps it’s better to pick up a bag of apples than buy a bottle of multivitamins.