CDC Says Half of Americans Take Them: The Multivitamin Myth

Over half of U.S. adults take multivitamins and supplements according to CDC report released today. Many postmenopausal women use supplements believing they offer added protection against cancer, heart disease or other serious conditions. A large study suggests this belief may be unfounded.
The study included 161,808 postmenopausal women, and focused on associations between multivitamin use and the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and overall mortality. The 41.5 percent of participants who used multivitamins were compared against the others who did not. During an eight-year period, researchers collected data and carefully documented the health of participants. They adjusted for factors such as age; body mass index; education; smoking; general health; exercise and diet. Multivitamin users were more likely than non-users to be educated, physically active, and living in the western U.S., among other characteristics.
In the final analysis, no association was found between multivitamins and disease prevention or risk. The results add to a growing body of evidence that when it comes to disease prevention, our essential nutrients should come from food rather than supplements.
The conclusion is that proper nutrition still involves eating the right foods in the right proportions. Women should make sure they have a balanced diet, relying on supplements as needed to fill specific dietary gaps–not for the purpose of disease prevention.  And they should check with their doctors or a qualified nutrition professional for personalized advice. Since this study only included postmenopausal women, results may not apply to other groups and further research may be warranted.
About half of all Americans use dietary supplements, at a cost of more than $20 billion each year. Multivitamins are the most frequently used supplement, their popularity due in part to belief in their disease prevention capabilities. Advertising claims (aided by the 1994 deregulation of the industry) bolster this false sense of security. Yet despite consumer enthusiasm, evidence is lacking to support the use of multivitamin supplements for the purpose of chronic disease prevention.
Getting nutrients from food is another matter. Diets containing plenty of fruits and vegetables have long been linked to lower risk of heart disease and possibly certain types of cancer. Though multivitamins contain micronutrients identified as essential by the Institute of Medicine, ultimately it seems preferable to get them from dietary sources, rather than a pill.
For more information about nutritional supplements check out “The Truth About Vitamins” and “Multivitamins – Necessary or Not?.”


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