National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data show that more than half of American adults reported taking at least one dietary supplement within the last 30 days, and more than 30 percent reported taking a multivitamin. The most commonly cited reasons for taking these supplements were to improve overall health and wellness.
The idea of taking a pill to be healthier is appealing. What could be easier? But studies are showing that not all vitamins and nutritional supplements improve health.
In 2014, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended against the use of beta carotene or vitamin E supplements to prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer. At the time, the task force found no evidence that taking multivitamins or supplements helped people live longer by preventing or reducing the risk of heart disease or cancer.
To update its 2014 recommendations, the task force reviewed the findings of 84 studies with almost 740,000 participants. The current recommendations focused on the evidence for taking a vitamin or mineral supplement to prevent or reduce the risk of developing heart disease or cancer for the first time, John Wong, a member of the task force, told TheDoctor.
The task force found no additional benefit from taking vitamin E, and beta-carotene increased the risk of developing lung cancer among those already at increased risk of the disease.
The task force found no evidence to recommend or not recommend vitamin and mineral supplements to prevent heart disease, stroke or cancer, although multivitamin use provided a small benefit for reducing cancer risk.
The task force did not recommend taking vitamin E and beta-carotene. It did not find any additional benefit from taking vitamin E. And beta-carotene increased the risk of developing lung cancer among those already at increased risk of the disease, such as those with a history of smoking or occupational exposure to asbestos.
These updated recommendations do not apply to everyone. “These recommendations only apply to healthy adults with no known disease or nutritional deficits,” said Wong, interim chief scientific officer and a primary care internist at Tufts Medical Center. They do not apply to those who take medications or have diseases that can affect how well nutrients may be absorbed or used within the body. They also do not apply to children or women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.
That means focusing on diet, exercise and screening for diabetes, hypertension and certain cancers as effective, evidence-based preventive measures. He also said providers can make recommendations to help their patients safely and effectively quit smoking.
To keep up with the latest USPSTF recommendations Wong suggests patients can download an app called Prevention TaskForce. There are also patient pages to help you share your concerns or thoughts about task force recommendations and statements.
The most commonly cited reasons for taking these supplements were to improve overall health and wellness.
The USPSTF evidence report, recommendation statement, a related editorial and a patient page are published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.