Vitamins Are Useless

vitaminsVitamins are useless, according to a couple of studies released Monday, and published in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine. The conclusion drawn by these studies is that vitamins are basically a waste of money and do not prevent chronic illness or disease.

Millions of Americans buy vitamins every year in the hope of preventing disease or to make up for lack of nutrients in the diet. Many take vitamins as a preventative measure, and because they feel good taking them. Consider this: Most people who take vitamins are generally healthy.

For the purpose of testing treatments for Alzheimer’s, one study was conducted with males to determine whether taking vitamins kept their minds limber. A subset of 6,000 doctors 65 and older from a larger study were tested to see if 10 years of vitamin use improved their cognitive function. The study concluded that the vitamins had no discernible effects on memory or cognitive function, although Gladys Block, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at University of California Berkeley, clarified that these doctors were generally healthy.

One study determined that taking vitamins does not prevent cardiovascular disease, stroke or cancer, and does not prevent second heart attacks. Surprisingly, however, smokers who ingested only beta carotene pills actually increased their risk of developing lung cancer. Especially risky is taking high doses of beta carotene and vitamin E; they are ineffective.

These studies, however, may not be reflective of the general American population. The problem is not that Americans are malnourished (which vitamins essentially should be taken for) but that we are obese and lead unhealthy lives. We can easily fill in our vitamin deficiencies by consuming certain foods.

According to Gervasio Lamas, a Columbia University cardiologist, some supplements are necessary. Pregnant women, for example, benefit from taking folic acid to prevent birth defects of the brain and spine. The best ways to preventing disease is consuming a well-balanced diet, no smoking, no drinking, and exercising to lose weight. Forget the vitamins, he says.

The editorial in Annals of Internal Medicine is blunt about vitamin use: taking vitamins does not prevent chronic disease or death and people should avoid taking them. This especially applies to Americans who have no micronutrient deficiencies. This segment of the population takes vitamins the most. Taking antioxidants, folic acid and vitamin B can actually be harmful and it is best to avoid these supplements (except in the case of folic acid for pregnant women.)

Vitamin D, however, warrants further study. For the purpose of preventing falls in the elderly, the efficacy of vitamin D cannot be confirmed as results of studies have been mixed. Further studies on vitamin D are required.

Francine Grodstein, a professor of medicine at Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, helped lead the studies. While she was disappointed with the results, she is not keen on writing off vitamins just yet. Studying different segments of the American population for longer periods, such as poor people, unhealthy people, and those who have limited access to healthy food, should be part of future studies on vitamins, say experts.

All in all, vitamins are useless for those who are otherwise healthy.

By: Juana Poareo


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Annals of Internal Medicine

Wall Street Journal