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Multivitamins Do Not Prevent Heart Disease

Vitamins and Heart Disease Risk: Details

In the study, about half of the 15,000 men took a daily multivitamin, Centrum Silver. The other half took placebo. When they started the study, they were 50 or older; their average age was 64.

At the start, 754 men had a history of heart disease or stroke.

In the vitamin group, 876 of 7,317 men had a nonfatal heart attack or stroke, or died from cardiovascular disease. In the placebo group, 856 of 7,324 men did. That made their rates of these major events virtually identical.

There was also no effect of multivitamin use on most individual heart conditions. The rates of any heart attack (fatal or nonfatal), any stroke, and death due to stroke were the same in both groups. There were slightly fewer deaths in the vitamin group than in the placebo group, but the difference was so small it could have been due to chance.

The effect of taking daily multivitamin on major heart conditions did not differ between men with or without a history of heart disease.

The vitamin generally appeared well-tolerated, Sesso says. Men in the vitamin group were slightly more likely to develop skin rashes.

Sesso notes that the people in the study represented "a well-nourished population who already has adequate or optimum intake levels of nutrients, for whom supplementation may offer no additional benefits." Future research is needed to look at the impact of vitamins on people who don’t eat as well, he says.

The researchers received research funding from the National Institutes of Health. They received vitamins or support from BASF Corporation, Pfizer, and DSM Nutritional Products Inc.

Vitamins and Heart Disease: Perspectives

Doctors say the findings reinforce a message they try to impress upon their patients: Vitamins cannot replace a healthy lifestyle and a good diet.

"Many people with heart disease risk factors or [a history of heart disease] lead [inactive] lifestyles, eat processed or fast foods, continue to smoke, and stop taking lifesaving prescribed medications, but purchase and regularly use vitamins and other dietary supplements in the hope this approach will prevent a future [heart attack] or stroke.

"This distraction from cardiovascular disease prevention is the main hazard of using vitamins and other unproven supplements," Lonn says.

American Heart Association spokesman Elliott Antman, MD, of Harvard Medical School, says, "Thinking of multivitamins as a quick fix can have dangerous consequences. You should not assume that by taking a vitamin, you can forgo the things that work." Antman was not involved with the research.

What works? Eating healthy food, exercising regularly, avoiding tobacco products, and if you have risk factors, taking proven, safe, and effective medications, the doctors say.

Duffy MacKay, ND, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the CRN trade group, says people who use vitamins are the very people who are most likely to have a healthy lifestyle.

"Government and other studies show that supplement users are more likely to be leaner and more physically active than non-supplement users. Our own research shows similar kinds of results, with supplement users being more likely than non-users to try to eat a healthy diet, engage in regular physical activity, and see a doctor regularly. It’s the whole lifestyle package, including consistent, long-term use of vitamins, that helps lead to good health," he says.

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