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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Doctors: Stop Wasting Money On Vitamins


A group of doctors writes that people should “stop wasting money on vitamin and mineral supplements.” (shannonkringen/Flickr)

It might not be worth taking vitamins if you want to prevent chronic disease. That’s the message in an an editorial today in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The editorial is a sweeping analysis of studies that focus on multivitamins. The authors looked at three studies that included hundreds of thousands of patients.

They determined that vitamins had “no clear evidence of beneficial effect” on the occurrence or progression of chronic disease, and in some cases could be harmful. For instance, smokers who took only beta carotene supplements increased their risk of lung cancer.

Dr. Lawrence Appel was one of the authors of the editorial and joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss it.

Interview Highlights

On the studies’ focus on people with healthy diets

“These are the people that supplement manufactures are targeting. They are often people who are eating well and get enough nutrients. I mean, there are populations in the world, many in less developed countries, where vitamin supplements are important, really important. But not in the United States, Canada, other places where diets are basically okay, at least in terms of micronutrients. It’s not saying that our diets are perfect, you know, our diets can be improved, but the approach is not to take a pill.”

Are there no benefits to vitamins?

“Very equivocal. There have been studies that examine quality of life, and there really is not any evidence that it is any better than placebo. Evidence that supplements can improve joint function or symptoms is very weak too. So there really is not a compelling database for people to take these supplements, many of which can be expensive and divert people from doing what they really should do … [such as] being physical active. Take the money they use on supplements and spend it on a pair of sneakers, or gym club, or eating better foods.”

On some people’s belief that vitamins work

“The problem is we’re dealing with a product that has a mystique — how can vitamins not be beneficial? The term vitamin almost connotes value. So we’re taking on firmly held beliefs, but it’s held on shaky scientific evidence.”


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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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