These Vitamins are a "Waste of Money," Says New Report
New guidelines from the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) reinforces what many health professionals have been saying for years—with a few notable exceptions, vitamins and supplements are a waste of money for most Americans. "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," says Jeffrey Linder, MD, MPH, chief of general internal medicine in the department of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, who co-wrote an editorial supporting the guidelines. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
What Are the New Guidelines?
The USPSTF says there is "insufficient evidence" that cardiovascular disease and cancer can be prevented by taking multivitamins and paired supplements. "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," says Linder.
"The US Department of Health and Human Services 2020-2025 dietary guidelines suggest that nutritional needs should be met primarily from foods and beverages—specifically, nutrient-dense foods and beverages," says the USPSTF.
Who Should Keep Taking Supplements?
The new guidelines do not apply to pregnant women, or anyone trying to get pregnant. "Pregnant individuals should keep in mind that these guidelines don't apply to them," says editorial co-author Natalie Cameron, MD. "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."
Beta-Carotene and Lung Cancer
"For many of the vitamins and nutrients reviewed, there was little evidence of serious harms. However, an important harm of increased lung cancer incidence was reported with the use of beta carotene by persons who smoke tobacco or have occupational exposure to asbestos," says the USPSTF.
Warning About Vitamins A and D
The taskforce warns about the danger of overdosing on many common vitamins. "Excessive doses of vitamin supplements can cause several known adverse effects; for example, moderate doses of vitamin A supplements may reduce bone mineral density, and high doses may be hepatotoxic or teratogenic," says the USPSTF. "Vitamin D has potential harms, such as a risk of hypercalcemia and kidney stones, when given at high doses. The potential for harm from other supplements at high doses should be carefully considered."
Focus On a Healthy Diet
The most effective way to get nutrients is from food, doctors say. "The thinking is that taking these pills can somehow improve your health or protect you from disease," says Dr. Pieter Cohen, associate professor at Harvard Medical School and general internist at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance. "While some people may need specific vitamins or supplements to help with deficiencies, for the average healthy person, following a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables provides all the essential vitamins and minerals."