Even though millions of
Americans pop a vitamin, mineral or multivitamin supplement every day, an
influential government-appointed panel of experts says the jury is still out on
whether they help boost health or not.
In its draft guidelines,
the US Preventive Services Task Force said that in some cases, certain
supplements, such as beta carotene or vitamin E, may actually do more harm than
good. Instead of focusing on supplements, they recommend that people focus on the
health benefits of a well-balanced diet instead.
"In general, the Task
Force found that there is not enough evidence to determine whether you can
reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer by taking single or paired
nutrients, or a multivitamin," Task Force Co-Chair Dr Michael LeFevre said
in a news release. "However, there were two major exceptions: beta
carotene and vitamin E, both of which clearly do not help prevent these
Lack of evidence
Citing a lack of evidence,
the panel concluded it could not recommend taking certain vitamins and minerals
alone, together or in a multivitamin for the prevention of heart disease or
The expert panel noted,
however, it didn't have enough data to advise against taking most of
these supplements, either.
The exceptions to that
recommendation: beta carotene and vitamin E. In that case, the experts advised
that people not use these supplements for the prevention of heart disease or
Vitamin E supplements were
found to have no disease-fighting benefit and beta carotene could actually be
harmful, since it appears to boost the risk of lung cancer in people already at
greater risk for this disease.
"Many people take
dietary supplements to support their general health and wellness," panel
member Dr Wanda Nicholson said in the Task Force news release. "In the
absence of clear evidence about the impact of most vitamins and multivitamins
on cardiovascular disease and cancer, health care professionals should counsel
their patients to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that is rich in nutrients.
They should also continue
to consider the latest scientific research, their own experiences, and their
patient's health history and preferences when having conversations about
The Council for Responsible
Nutrition, which represents the vitamin supplement industry, had this to say
about the Task Force's recommendation:
"As the researchers
have indicated, there is limited evidence for multivitamins in preventing
cancer or cardiovascular disease; however, we believe the paucity of clinical
trial evidence should not be misinterpreted as a lack of benefit for the
multivitamin," Duffy McKay, vice president of scientific and regulatory
affairs at the council, said in a statement.
"We know for sure that multivitamins can
fill nutrient gaps, and as so many people are not even reaching the recommended
dietary allowances for many nutrients, that's reason enough to add an
affordable and convenient multivitamin to their diets."
The Task Force panel posted
its draft recommendation on the use of vitamin, mineral and multivitamin
supplements to prevent heart disease and cancer on its website on Monday.
The evidence-based recommendations will be
available for public comment. The Task Force's evidence report is also published
in the online edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The US Food and Drug
Administration provides more information on dietary supplements.