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Most vitamins, minerals won't prevent heart disease, stroke or cancer, panel warns

An authoritative panel of experts said most vitamins, minerals and multivitamin supplements won't prevent heart disease, stroke or cancer, according to the latest scientific evidence. File Photo by Billie Jean Shaw/UPI
An authoritative panel of experts said most vitamins, minerals and multivitamin supplements won't prevent heart disease, stroke or cancer, according to the latest scientific evidence. File Photo by Billie Jean Shaw/UPI

June 21 (UPI) -- In a move that could upend the multi-billion-dollar U.S. vitamin industry, an authoritative panel of experts said most vitamins, minerals and multivitamin supplements won't prevent heart disease, stroke or cancer, according to the latest scientific evidence.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, in a recommendation statement published Tuesday in the journal JAMA, also specifically warned not to take beta-carotene or vitamin E for this purpose.

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The panel said it found no benefit from taking vitamin E supplements to prevent cardiovascular disease or cancer in healthy, non-pregnant adults.

And it warned against taking beta-carotene for this purpose, explaining it increases the risk of lung cancer in people already at risk.

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Pregnant people still need essential vitamins, such as folic acid, and the guidelines do not apply to them or people trying to get pregnant, the task force said.

Dr. John Wong, a task force member, and interim chief scientific officer and an internist at Tufts Medical Center, told UPI that the panel is calling for additional research on the topic.

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He noted that the task force had been awaiting results from a major three-year study of vitamins, but determined it was not long enough. And he said two large studies came to contradictory conclusions about whether vitamin D increased cancer-related mortality, "so we're calling for more studies to understand that discrepancy."

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Wong noted that the panel's new recommendation is consistent with a statement it issued in 2014, despite new data having emerged.

The Washington, D.C.-based national lobbying group for manufacturers of over-the-counter medicines and dietary supplements downplayed the task force's findings.

"The USPSTF found again what it found in 2014 and in 2021, that there is not yet enough evidence to determine if vitamin and mineral supplements help prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer," Duffy MacKay, senior vice president of dietary supplements for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, said in a statement to UPI.

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"However," MacKay added, "dietary supplements should not be confused with drugs, and beyond the narrow focus of this review, the broader evidence base for the benefits of dietary supplements is growing rapidly."

He added: "The NIH Office of Dietary Supplements reminds healthcare providers that supplementation can be helpful for people including those over 50, those who could become pregnant, breastfed babies and toddlers, those who avoid certain foods or who have poor diets, and many others."

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Nationwide, the majority -- 52% -- of adults participating in a federal survey reported using at least one dietary supplement in the prior 30 days. And 31% reported using a multivitamin-mineral supplement over that time period, the task force said.

Northwestern Medicine researchers wrote an accompanying editorial in support of the task force's new recommendations, calling vitamins "a waste of money" for non-pregnant, otherwise healthy individuals because there isn't enough evidence they help prevent cardiovascular disease or cancer.

"Patients ask all the time, 'What supplements should I be taking?' They're wasting money and focus thinking there has to be a magic set of pills that will keep them healthy when we should all be following the evidence-based practices of eating healthy and exercising," Dr. Jeffrey Linder said.

"The task force is not saying 'don't take multivitamins,' but there's this idea that if these were really good for you, we'd know by now," Linder, chief of general internal medicine in the department of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a press release.

He added that physicians' scant time with patients would be better spent in counseling them about exercise or smoking cessation to reduce cardiovascular risk, not discussing supplements.

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Linder noted, however, that individuals with a vitamin deficiency can still benefit from taking dietary supplements, such as calcium and vitamin D, shown to prevent fractures in older adults.

The task force said its recommendations were based on a systematic review of 84 studies, in which its members found "insufficient evidence" that taking multivitamins, paired supplements or single supplements can help prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer in otherwise healthy, non-pregnant adults.

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