Story URL:
Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 11:42:21 AM CST

Top Stories

Melody Chandler/MEDILL

Multivitamins are the most common supplements taken by Americans but don't prevent heart disease, according to researcher Dr. Howard Sesso.

Multivitamins may not protect men from cardiovascular disease

by Melody Chandler
Nov 07, 2012

New research finds that a daily multivitamin may not prevent or even reduce the risk of heart disease, heart attack, or stroke in men.

The research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) this week, followed the impact of vitamins on nearly 15,000 male participants for more than a decade.

“Multivitamins are the most common supplement taken by at least one-third of all U.S. adults,” stated Dr. Howard D. Sesso, lead author of the study and an associate professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Sesso statements summarized the research in an American Heart Association news release. “While multivitamins are typically used to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiency, there is an unproven belief that they may have benefits on other chronic diseases, including heart attack, stroke or cardiovascular death.”

The new findings are part of the Physicians’ Health Study II, a clinical trial involving 14,641 U.S. male physicians, including those in the vitamin study.

The study participants were randomly assigned to take either a multivitamin or a placebo every day in a study that started in 1997 and ended in 2011. Of the 14,641 participating men, 754 had a history of cardiovascular disease. The majority of the participants were white and 50 years old or older

A follow-up with the participants after a median time of 11.2 years showed that almost 11 percent of both multivitamin and placebo takers - 1, 732 participants - had suffered some type of cardiovascular event during the time that they were taking the multivitamin or placebo.


Dr. Sidney Smith, former American Heart Association president and a participant at the Los Angeles convention discussing the research, spoke positively about the research work done on multivitamins.

“It is an important trial. There are not a lot of large, randomized trials like this. As much as $5 billion is being spent a year on multivitamins.”

Smith said that this trial provides researchers with important information. Although the participant spectrum was more limited in this trial, it encourages broader studies on a more diverse group of participants.

Dr. Adhir Shroff of the University of Illinois Hospital’s cardiology department said he was surprised by the results of the study. “There’s this general concept that vitamins are good for you,” Shroff said.

It is, however, important that patients don’t look to multivitamins as a cure-all, Shroff said. Patients should continue to follow their doctor’s advice and take conventional prescribed medications.
Another study released in October showed moderate benefits of multivitamins in preventing cancer. Also part of the Physician’s Health Study II, that study showed that men who took daily multivitamins long-term were about 8 percent less likely to develop any type of cancer.

Still, people should be wary of thinking that multivitamins are a cure. It is important people try and follow healthy lifestyles and the advice of their doctor, said Dr. Levy, associate medical director of the Program for Personalized Health & Prevention at the University of Chicago Medicine. 

“There is nothing that replaces good nutrition,” he said.

Since the participants of this research were physicians, their lifestyle, the food they eat and general health might not necessarily be comparable to the average American—especially people who are low income, Shroff said.

The select nature of the test participants used in this research should be recognized.

“The majority of men in our trial appeared to have, on average, good dietary habits.” Sesso said in a written statement. “The question remains about how the long-term cardiovascular effects of daily multivitamin use might change among people with a wider range of nutritional status. Other healthy habits, such as smoking cessation and increased physical activity, remain effective tools in preventing cardiovascular disease and other outcomes.”