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Can Multivitamins Curb Chronic Disease?

Don’t bet on multivitamins to keep you free of heart disease, cancer, and other chronic illness. That’s the recommendation of a 2006 State-of-the-Science Conference on Multivitamin/Mineral Supplements and Chronic Disease Prevention from the National Institutes of Health.

In the report, the 13-member panel concluded that more research is needed before suggesting multivitamin use to head off disease in healthy, non-pregnant people.

However, the NIH opinion contradicts earlier findings, including a 2002 study from the Harvard School of Medicine published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The authors reviewed 35 years worth of research on vitamins and chronic disease, concluding that every adult should take a multivitamin daily as a safe and inexpensive way to optimize health.

Other studies highlight the connection between multivitamin use and well-being, too.

In a group of more than 88,000 women, those who took multivitamins for 15 years or more significantly reduced the risk of colon cancer as compared to those who took multivitamins for less time. The women were part of the Nurses’ Health Study at the Harvard School of Public Health. The research was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Another study found that taking a multivitamin reduced the risk of first-time heart attack in a group of Swedish men and women aged 45 to 70.

“In bridging nutrient gaps, it is perfectly plausible to think that multivitamins help head off chronic conditions, including osteoporosis and heart disease,” Blumberg says.

So why the difference of opinion?

Stampfer, who was a presenter at the NIH conference, says the panel excluded smaller trials and observational studies done with multivitamins, looking only at the results of large randomized trials, considered the gold standard of clinical studies.

However, randomized trials tend to be shorter than other types of studies, which leaves less time to see results.

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