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Study Finds Vitamins, Popular Supplements Have Few Major Health Benefits

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May 31, 2018

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It might be time to reconsider popping those multivitamin supplements we are all so dependent on. According to a recent study, common popular vitamin and mineral supplements won’t add years to your life and don’t have as many health benefits as we think.

That is not to say vitamin supplements are harmful to the body (assuming, of course, that they’re legitimate products), but they don’t seem to provide any substantial health benefits either, when they’re not treating a specific deficiency, say researchers of the study from St. Michael Hospital and University of Toronto. After collecting data from trials published between 2012 to 2017, researchers concluded that taking vitamin supplements resulted in neither any advantage nor risk when taken as a preventive step to cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke or even premature death.

“We were surprised to find so few positive effects of the most common supplements that people consume,” says Dr. David Jenkins, lead author of the study. “Our review found that if you want to use multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium or vitamin C, it does no harm — but there is no apparent advantage either.”

However, folic acid and B-vitamins with folic acid may possibly reduce cardiovascular disease as well as strokes. And niacin and antioxidants showed were linked to a slight increase in risk of death, from any cause.

“These findings suggest that people should be conscious of the supplements they’re taking and ensure they’re applicable to the specific vitamin or mineral deficiencies they have been advised of by their healthcare provider,” explains Jenkins.

The research team reviewed data on common supplements, namely A, B1, B2, B3 (Niacin), B6, B9 (Folic Acid), C, D and E, as well as B-carotene, calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium and selenium.

“In the absence of significant positive data — apart from folic acid’s potential reduction in the risk of stroke and heart disease — it’s most beneficial to rely on a healthy diet to get your fill of vitamins and minerals,” Jenkins says. “So far, no research on supplements has shown us anything better than healthy servings of less processed plant foods including vegetables, fruits and nuts.”

Nutrients are absorbed differently from foods versus supplements; the vitamins and minerals in supplements tend to flood the blood stream quickly, too quickly for the body to absorb it all and often get flushed out in urine before it can be absorbed, explains study author Sandhya Sahye-Pudaruth, who works in Jenkin’s lab. Foods are digested and the nutrients extracted more slowly, which allows gradual and more thorough absorption of nutrients by the body.

A previous study, conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, shows similar results, using data from 14,000 US men over age 50 who answered questions about various health outcomes while some received placebos and others received a multivitamin. After 11 years of following up, researchers found there was no significant change with regards to risk of major cardiovascular diseases even with the consumption of multivitamins associated with reducing cardiovascular risks.

“Intuitively, many had thought that men with ‘poor’ nutritional status at baseline may benefit more from long-term multivitamin use on cardiovascular outcomes; however, we did not see any evidence for this in our recent analysis,” says the lead author of that study, Howard Sesso, of the division of preventive medicine and the division of aging at BWH.

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Written By Angelina Shah

Angelina Shah is a staff writer with The Swaddle. In her previous life she was a copywriter in advertising. She has a penchant for reading, singing, travelling and being obsessed with superheroes.

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