From advertisements featuring radiant, silver-haired couples, to new studies on their efficacy, we hear a lot about vitamins. Sometimes the news is bad, and sometimes it’s good. The results of the most recent study revealed a new good point. In it, 14,000 men over the age of 50 were studied for over a decade, and it was found that a daily multivitamin reduced their risk of cancer by 8% when compared with a placebo.
While this sounds good, and it might be, to consider the real result of this study would be more complicated. First of all, consider those followed in the study. They were all male and above 50. The group was not ethnically or racially diverse at all, and they were very well-educated, by virtue of the fact that they were a group of doctors. This is significant because this particular group of men would probably already be taking care of their health, therefore it would be difficult to attribute their decrease in cancer to the vitamins, or their other healthy habits.
In addition, several other studies in the past have shown intensely negative effects of vitamin use. In one study, smokers were given supplements with high doses of beta-carotene. They were expected to show better health, but in fact, they developed more lung cancers than those on placebos. This study was done in two different instances, and both times showed the same result. In another study, supplementing men with vitamin E and selenium did nothing to reduce prostate cancer, as researchers had hoped. This current study itself did nothing to reduce the incidence of prostate cancer in the group.
Another disturbing study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine indicated that multivitamins in older women increased their risk of dying from any cause. In the journal JAMA, researchers concluded that taking B12 supplements did nothing to prevent heart attacks, strokes, or death in those with a history of vascular disease.
Researchers say these mixed results might be a consequence of the fact that vitamins and minerals need to be delivered within a specific, optimal range, and in a particular way, in order for people to confer the desired benefit.
So while you may be taking vitamins to “fill the gaps”, there is little evidence that you are doing anything to improve your health, and you might even be harming your health. It is best to get your vitamins and minerals from their natural food sources instead.