Americans spend billions on vitamins, multivitamin and mineral supplements for their health, but a review of numerous studies concluded there is little to no evidence some of those supplements prevent heart disease, cancer and death.
The report, released by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force on Tuesday, concluded that “current evidence is insufficient” to determine whether vitamins and supplements actually help or hurt your health, based on 84 studies, 52 of which were done since the task force last updated their guidelines in 2014. Vitamins and supplements examined included vitamins A, B, C, D and E, as well as calcium, magnesium, beta carotene, folic acid, selenium, zinc and other multivitamins.
“Our recommendation is neither for or against taking vitamins, minerals, or combinations of those nutrients. We just don’t have enough evidence,” Dr. John Wong, a primary care clinician in the Department of Medicine at Tufts Medical Center who was involved in the report, told USA TODAY.
While researchers said they don’t have enough evidence to prove taking supplements provides any benefits, there have been numerous studies suggesting a lack of benefits. A 2018 study found that multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium and vitamin C don’t improve heart health.
The finding that most of the products didn’t have any benefits applied to “otherwise healthy, nonpregnant adults” or “children, persons who are chronically ill, are hospitalized or have a known nutritional deficiency.”
However, people who are pregnant or planning to be pregnant, should take a daily supplement containing 0.4 to 0.8 mg of folic acid, the task force suggests.
In fact, one supplement, beta carotene, was found to be more harmful than beneficial; the use of it to prevent cardiovascular diseases or cancer actually increased the chances of lung cancer and death. The task force also “specifically recommends against the use” of vitamin E because it likely has no benefits.
The findings come as over half (52%) of surveyed Americans say they take at least one dietary supplement and nearly one-third (31%) of Americans say they use a multivitamin-mineral supplement. The report said the U.S. spent nearly $50 billion on dietary supplements in 2021.
“If you ask them why, most people say, ‘to maintain or improve their overall health,'” Wong said.
The task force acknowledged it makes sense people would take vitamins and supplements in hopes of health benefits, as some deficiencies may lead to illness.
But experts agreed the best method to maintain good cardiovascular health and cancer prevention is a balanced diet and frequent physical activity. A 2019 study from Tufts University concluded the right amount of vitamins and minerals can lower your risk of early death, but they should come from food and not supplements.
“The recommendation across all organizations with regard to multivitamins and minerals is to eat a balanced diet, and then the emphasis tends to be on plenty of fruit and vegetables and less processed foods,” Wong said.
Wong added people should consult with their health professionals to determine if any vitamins and supplements are worth taking. He said this recommendation should also serve as a call to action for further research into proving the official benefits and risks for each vitamin and supplement.
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