Evidence still unclear whether multivitamins prevent cancer, heart disease

Plenty of money has been spent on clinical trials to test the disease-preventive benefits of multivitamins, so by now researchers should have determined whether or not they prevent heart disease or cancer. But the evidence still isn’t clear, according to an government-sponsored task force of primary care experts who reviewed the latest research.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force panel issued an update on Monday to their decade-old recommendations and concluded, once again, that they can’t recommend either way whether we should or should not take multivitamins and most single nutrient supplements to protect against cancer and heart disease. They did, though, recommend firmly against taking beta carotene and vitamin E.

That’s based on a handful of trials finding that both supplements raised the risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer in those who took them rather than lowering their risk. Beta-carotene, for example, raised lung cancer risk in smokers compared to those who took a placebo.

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“Due to the uncertain benefit of vitamin supplements to prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer, health care professionals should use their best judgment and consider their patient’s health history, values, and preferences when having conversations about nutritional supplements,” Task Force co-chair Dr. Michael LeFevre said in a statement.

The new recommendation only applies to healthy adults and not to pregnant women, children, or those with chronic diseases who have their own recommendations.

We might be better off placing our faith in whole foods like kale and other colorful fruits and vegetables that are naturally rich in vitamins and minerals, as well as a host of other disease-preventive plant chemicals.