Vitamins: Worth It Or A Waste?

Supplements and vitamins inside two glass petri dishes

Are those vitamins you take good for you, bad for you, or just a waste of time and money? A panel of experts has decided to weigh  in on the health benefits of most vitamins and supplements.

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In its draft guidelines, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said that in some cases, certain supplements, such as beta carotene or vitamin E, may actually do more harm than good. Instead of focusing on supplements, they recommend that people focus on the health benefits of a well-balanced diet instead.

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“In general, the Task Force found that there is not enough evidence to determine whether you can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer by taking single or paired nutrients, or a multivitamin,” Task Force Co-Chair Dr. Michael LeFevre said in a news release.

Citing a lack of evidence, the panel concluded it could not recommend taking certain vitamins and minerals alone, together or in a multivitamin for the prevention of heart disease or cancer. The expert panel noted, however, it didn’t have enough data to advise against taking most of these supplements, either.

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Vitamins You Should NOT Take?

The exceptions to the Task Force’s recommendations are beta carotene and vitamin E.

“Beta carotene and vitamin E…clearly do not help prevent diseases.”

The experts advised that people not use these supplements for the prevention of heart disease or cancer. Vitamin E supplements were found to have no disease-fighting benefit and beta carotene could actually be harmful, since it appears to boost the risk of lung cancer in people already at greater risk for this disease.

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Task Force: “Focus On Diet”

“Many people take dietary supplements to support their general health and wellness,” panel member Dr. Wanda Nicholson said in the Task Force news release. “In the absence of clear evidence about the impact of most vitamins and multivitamins on cardiovascular disease and cancer, health care professionals should counsel their patients to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that is rich in nutrients. They should also continue to consider the latest scientific research, their own experiences, and their patient’s health history and preferences when having conversations about nutritional supplements.”

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The Task Force panel posted its draft recommendation on the use of vitamin, mineral and multivitamin supplements to prevent heart disease and cancer on its website on Monday. The evidence-based recommendations will be available for public comment until Dec. 9. The Task Force’s evidence report is also published in the Nov. 12 online edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine.