Vitamins: Research looks at how effective they are

In hopes of staying healthy, many people turn to multivitamins as time goes on, hoping the right concoction will help prevent heart disease or cancer – but according to new research, vitamins and supplements may not have much effect on the average adult.

Researchers at Northwestern Medicine in Illinois, USA have found that unless you’re pregnant or taking supplements to replace a deficiency on the advice of your doctor, vitamins are largely wasted. for healthy people, according to a review of 84 studies.

Jeffrey Linder, chief of general internal medicine in the department of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a press release.

“They are wasting money and focusing on thinking that there must be a magic pill to keep them healthy when we should all follow the evidence-based practices of healthy eating and exercise.”

According to Statistics Canada, nearly half of all Canadians have taken at least one nutritional supplement in the last month, with about two-thirds of women aged 50 and over reporting that they have taken at least one supplement. one type in the last month.

For this new paper, the researchers reviewed studies that evaluated the benefits of multiple multivitamins, supplements, and their combinations, and published their results in an editorial. in JAMA magazine on Monday.

The desire to use vitamins and supplements makes sense, the editorial claimed, as many of these products have “antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects” that could, in theory, reduce the risk of cancer. cardiovascular disease and cancer risk.

But when you look at the current evidence, the researchers say, there isn’t enough support to make the average adult buy these products consistently, because when there is an impact measurable is very small. The researchers gave the example of a 65-year-old woman who took a multivitamin for 5 to 10 years and only saw her already low risk of death decrease by 0.5% over the next 9 years.

The editorial explains, that fruits and vegetables contain vitamins that work together to produce those health benefits, and the vitamins themselves are not exactly the same.

However, this does not mean that they are never useful. For some people, they can be essential.

“Under the right circumstances, supplements are beneficial to health,” the editorial states. “Vitamin and mineral deficiencies cause a multitude of diseases. For those who are or may become pregnant, folic acid is recommended to prevent neural tube defects and iron is recommended to prevent premature birth and low birth weight, as well as improve fetal brain development. “.

Co-author Dr Natalie Cameron, a lecturer in general internal medicine at Feinberg, added in the release that prenatal vitamins are one of the most common ways that people who are pregnant receive vitamins like folic acid. .

“More data are needed to understand how specific vitamin supplementation might alter the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes and cardiovascular complications during pregnancy,” she said.

The study backs up new recommendations released by the US Preventive Services Task Force, an independent body of experts that provides health care recommendations. The USPSTF advisory, published Monday, states that it recommends “not using beta carotene or vitamin E supplements for the prevention of cardiovascular disease or cancer,” and did not find sufficient evidence of this. benefits of multivitamins or any combination of multivitamins and supplements in relation to the prevention of these two conditions.

They specifically state that there is no indication that beta carotene or vitamin E helps prevent cardiovascular disease or cancer.

“The task force didn’t say ‘don’t take multivitamins,’ but had the idea that if they were really good for you, we’d know by now,” Linder said.

He adds that special supplements can distract from actual interventions that could help patients cut their risk of cancer or heart disease.

“The downside is that by talking to patients about supplements in the very limited time we can see them, we are missing out on advice on how to actually reduce cardiovascular risks, such as: such as through exercise or smoking cessation.”

The researchers included 52 new studies in their review, which has come out since the USPSTF last made its recommendation in 2014.

The authors point out that while many people consider supplements to be “the worst, benign preventative product,” they are not well managed and can distract from truly effective dietary interventions. diet and exercise.

“The supplement industry’s substantial marketing budgets generate interest, attention, and billions of dollars in revenue,” the study pointed out.

In Canada, while supplements, vitamins, and herbal remedies are classified as “Natural Health Products” (NHP) by Health Canada and must be licensed and regulated, a regulatory body Federal surveillance found in 2021 that there were significant gaps in production oversight and regulation for many products.

Following a response from the Environment and Sustainable Development Commission, Health Canada is proposing regulatory amendments to improve labeling and address risk levels, with the first changes expected to be proposed. out this year.

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