Multivitamins Should Be Avoided, According To Two New Studies

Before you pop open your bottle of Flintstones this morning, read this: Multivitamins apparently have no "real benefit," and don't help prevent chronic disease, improve cognition, or boost cardiovascular health. That's according to a "rigorously conducted" new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine .

The study's findings aren't exactly new, but reflect a bout of recent vitamin research by other scientists, including a separate, 26-vitamin review published in the same journal. Researchers said they found "no consistent evidence that the included supplements affected [cardiovascular disease], cancer, or all-cause mortality in healthy individuals without known nutritional deficiencies."

It turns out much of vitamins' efficacy has to do with whom the vitamin-takers are. In post-industrial countries, the diet many of us are lucky enough to have is fairly nutritionally-balanced. We shouldn't be lacking any major vitamins or minerals — and certainly not at the levels vitamins contain.

"We're not taking care of patients with nutritional deficiency. I've never seen a patient with scurvy or beriberi," Columbia University cardiologist and lead researcher Gervasio Lamas said. "If you're a healthy person trying to stay healthy, the money is in stopping smoking, exercising, losing weight."

But it's easy to find yourself wandering over to aisle eight at CVS. After all, we're always reading that Vitamin A will stave off the wrinkles, Vitamin C will prevent a case of the sniffles, and extra Omega-3s will help with memory. Why not take them all in one convenient pill? Well, because unless you're malnourished, it probably won't make a difference.

But the global vitamin industry continues to grow. Last year, sales were up three percent from 2011, with $23.4 billion — soon to be $28 billion — in sales. A lot of that figure comes from multivitamins, which are expensive enough to make you think that surely, they're worth it. And buy into them we do: 40 percent of us regularly take them, according to the latest numbers from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Baby boomers, approaching the ages when chronic diseases largely start to make themselves known, have been behind many of the sales. Of course, we do our part.

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The bad reports aren't news to the industry. "The thing to do with [these reports] is just ride them out," General Nutrition Centers' CEO Joseph Fortunato said in 2010. "We see no impact on our business." Never mind that continuous overdosage of vitamins can be really bad for your health:

In 2007, researchers from the National Cancer Institute examined 11,000 men who did or didn't take multivitamins. Those who took multivitamins were twice as likely to die from advanced prostate cancer.

In 2008, a review of all existing studies involving more than 230,000 people who did or did not receive supplemental antioxidants found that vitamins increased the risk of cancer and heart disease.

On October 10, 2011, researchers from the University of Minnesota evaluated 39,000 older women and found that those who took supplemental multivitamins, magnesium, zinc, copper, and iron died at rates higher than those who didn't. They concluded, "Based on existing evidence, we see little justification for the general and widespread use of dietary supplements."

In other words, it's all about the lifestyle, baby — not a one-stop-shop multivitamin miracle.