There’s no doubt that “getting your vitamins” is key to living a healthier life. However, recent studies supported by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) reached the disturbing conclusion that taking a daily multivitamin doesn’t seem to make a difference in preventing death by disease. More specifically, this new data shows vitamins make little to no difference in preventing heart disease and cancer – the two leading killers in the United States today.
Risks and Rewards
The simple fact that vitamins won’t stave off deadly diseases doesn’t make them entirely useless. For people with deficiencies or dietary restrictions, they’re as necessary as any medication to maintain a decent quality of life. Numerous studies have proven that a vitamin regimen can be beneficial in ensuring pregnant women give birth to healthy babies. However, vitamins should be treated as medications and used by individuals only with recommendation by a doctor. Using multivitamins and other supplements as a safety net against serious illness and disease appears to not only yield no positive effects but also lead to tragedy in some cases.
According to the USPSTF’s study of 24 individual vitamins or other supplements, no evidence of beneficial effects were discovered in regard to cancer, cardiovascular disease or “all-cause mortality,” which is defined as the annual number of deaths in a particular age group in comparison to the total population. Conversely, the study showed that beta-carotene can actually increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers, while other research discovered that Vitamin E may increase the risk of prostate cancer, and Vitamin A can cause serious liver damage if taken in large amounts.
Who Needs Supplements
There are a number of different groups of people who should take vitamins and supplements, according to WebMD:
- Pregnant women or nursing mothers
- People on restrictive diets such as vegans, vegetarians and individuals on gluten-free diets.
- People on low-calorie diets, particularly patients recovering from eating disorders.
- People with moderate to severe food allergies or intolerances that directly affect their diet options.
- Patients taking certain medications known for triggering vitamin deficiencies.
The exact benefits of supplements for healthy people are still unclear. The American Heart Association recommends that healthy individuals get adequate nutrients through their diets rather than by taking supplements whenever possible, with vitamins being used to fill the smaller gaps caused by occasional slips in lifestyle choices.
“Your multivitamin provides you those missing nutrients that are missing from poor diet or busy travel schedules, and that’s really what the importance of a multivitamin is,” advised Douglas MacKay of the Council for Responsible Nutrition.
New Information, Better Decisions
Because the majority of adults and children don’t get enough Vitamin D, calcium or potassium, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, it would be easy to justify taking a multivitamin just in case you’re part of that majority. However, this new data makes clear the fact that taking vitamins can’t be expected to counterbalance a poor lifestyle or severe illness and should be handled with greater care than they have been in recent years. While specialists doubt that new discoveries will change the way many people view multivitamins – especially with so many celebrities singing the praises of alternative medicine – finally having hard data to prove that some promises really are too good to be true should be enough to sway some people into getting real medical attention to deal with dietary concerns and other afflictions.
Vitamins are required to live, so it’s hard for many people to believe they could possibly be harmful. But at the end of the day, vitamins are a medication used to treat specific conditions. Just as the average person wouldn’t take antibiotics daily because a neighbor used them to recover from bronchitis, vitamins shouldn’t be treated as a quick fix or surefire prevention for any condition, chronic or otherwise; they should only be used as needed and only when recommended by medical professionals.