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Don't Take This Supplement Anymore, Experts Warn 

Beta-carotene supplements may increase the chances of lung cancer.

Based on recent scientific evidence, many health experts are lukewarm to reluctant to recommend taking multivitamins or supplements. (The exceptions are vitamin C and vitamin D, which Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease expert, has publicly recommended, saying good data indicates they may help improve immunity.) Multivitamins, in particular, have come under increased skepticism in recent years, after a major 2019 meta-analysis at Johns Hopkins involving 450,000 people found that they don't lower your risk of heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline, death after a heart attack or stroke, or early death in general.

Rarely do experts step out to warn against taking a specific supplement because it can be harmful. But that's what happened recently, when a national task force warned against taking this supplement because it can increase the risk of cancer or fatal cardiovascular disease. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.

Avoid This Supplement, Experts Warn

In May, the United States Protective Task Force (USPTF) published a draft statement on its website saying it officially recommended against taking beta-carotene supplements. Task force members said studies indicate beta-carotene supplements may increase the chances of lung cancer in people who are already at higher risk (such as people who smoke or have been exposed to asbestos in the workplace). 

What's more, five studies found a "statistically significant increased risk for cardiovascular disease mortality" in people who took beta-carotene supplements after four to 12 years of follow-up.

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"Beta-Carotene Can Be Harmful"

In the letter, the task force also there was insufficient evidence to recommend taking vitamin E supplements. But its warning about beta-carotene was more stark.

"The evidence shows there is no benefit to taking vitamin E and that beta-carotene can be harmful because it increases the risk of lung cancer in people already at risk, such as those who smoke, and also increases the risk of dying from heart disease or stroke," said John Wong, MD, of Tufts Medical Center, in a statement.

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What Is Beta-Carotene?

Beta-carotene is a carotenoid, or a natural plant chemical, one of several red, orange and purple pigments found in fruits and vegetables. It is naturally found in foods like carrots, broccoli, spinach, sweet potatoes and apricots. 

Fruits and vegetables are excellent for your health, and strong evidence shows that consuming several helpings a day reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, just to name a few.

But isolating certain chemicals from fruits and vegetables in supplement form is a different story. More is not necessarily better. Some commercial beta-carotene supplements can contain many times more beta-carotene than experts recommend you get from a healthy diet.

The best course is to eat a varied diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables and other nutritious whole foods. "Pills are not a shortcut to better health and the prevention of chronic diseases," said Larry Appel, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research. "Other nutrition recommendations have much stronger evidence of benefits—eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and sugar you eat. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael