Are Vitamin Pills Beneficial or Harmful?

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vitamin-supplements

One in two adults takes a daily vitamin pill, and Americans spend tens of billions of dollars each year on supplements. Now, a small coterie of physicians writing in a leading medical journal has offered this blunt advice: “Stop wasting money.”

In an unusually direct opinion piece, the five authors say that for healthy Americans worried about chronic disease, there’s no clear benefit to taking vitamin and mineral pills. And in some instances, they may even cause harm.

The authors make an exception for supplemental vitamin D, which they say needs further research. Even so, widespread use of vitamin D pills “is not based on solid evidence that benefits outweigh harms,” the authors wrote. For other vitamins and supplements, “the case is closed.”

“The message is simple,” the editorial continued. “Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided.”

“We have so much information from so many studies,” Dr. Cynthia Mulrow, senior deputy editor of Annals of Internal Medicine and an author of the editorial, said in an interview. “We don’t need a lot more evidence to put this to bed.”

Officials with the Natural Products Association, a trade organization that represents supplement suppliers and retailers, said they were shocked by what they termed “an attack” on their industry, pointing to a study published last year that found a modest reduction in overall cancers in a long, randomized, controlled trial of 15,000 male doctors.

“Our members market and sell their products in order to assist people to achieve a healthier lifestyle,” said John Shaw, executive director of the association, adding that he could not understand why the industry was being criticized “for trying to promote health and wellness.”

Demand for vitamin and mineral supplements has grown markedly in recent years, with domestic sales totaling some $30 billion in 2011. More than half of Americans used at least one dietary supplement from 2003-06, up from 42 percent from 1988-94, according to national health surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most popular products are multivitamin and mineral supplements, which are consumed by some 40 percent of men and women in the United States, according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Read more: NY Times

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