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I'm a Doctor and Warn You Know This Before Taking Vitamins

There's something you should know before starting a vitamin regimen.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Vitamins and supplements are a multibillion-dollar industry, and more of us are regularly taking them than ever—more than half of Americans now report taking supplements regularly. Unfortunately, there's something you should know before starting or continuing a vitamin regimen. That's the message of a group of doctors who recently published an editorial with an urgent recommendation on vitamins. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Supplements Are "Wasting Money"

Portrait of a health care professional, male doctor holding, protecting his money dollars in hand

In an editorial published June 21 in JAMA, three doctors said that taking vitamins and supplements are a waste of time and money for most people, and there are better ways to get concrete health benefits.  

"Patients ask all the time, 'What supplements should I be taking?' They're wasting money and focus thinking there has to be a magic set of pills that will keep them healthy when we should all be following the evidence-based practices of eating healthy and exercising," said Dr. Jeffrey Linder, chief of general internal medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.


"Insufficient Evidence" That Vitamins Prevent Heart Disease, Cancer

prostate cancer

The editorial was written in support of new recommendations about vitamins and supplements made last month by the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an expert panel that issues guidelines about preventative medicine. After reviewing 84 studies, the USPSTF said there was "insufficient evidence" that taking vitamins or supplements can help prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer.

"The task force is not saying 'don't take multivitamins,' but there's this idea that if these were really good for you, we'd know by now," wrote Linder. "The harm is that talking with patients about supplements during the very limited time we get to see them, we're missing out on counseling about how to really reduce cardiovascular risks, like through exercise or smoking cessation."


Two Supplements Should Be Avoided, Task Force Says

Woman is holding a mobile phone and a bottle of pills

The task force officially recommended against taking beta-carotene or vitamin E in supplement form. In the case of beta carotene, studies indicate beta-carotene supplementation 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) and increased the risk of dying of cardiovascular disease.

In terms of vitamin E, the task force said studies haven't found that taking vitamin E reduces the risk of getting or dying from heart disease or cancer. 


But Pregnant People Still Need Vitamins

pregnant african american woman drinking green vegetable juice or smoothie at home

"Pregnant individuals should keep in mind that these guidelines don't apply to them," said Dr. Natalie Cameron, an instructor of general internal medicine at Northwestern. "Certain vitamins, such as folic acid, are essential for pregnant women to support healthy fetal development. The most common way to meet these needs is to take a prenatal vitamin. More data is needed to understand how specific vitamin supplementation may modify risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes and cardiovascular complications during pregnancy." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of 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