Experts: Don't Waste Your Money on Multivitamins
Three studies find the supplements don't help extend life or ward off heart disease and memory loss
"It would be great if all dietary problems could be solved with a pill," he said. "Unfortunately, that's not the case."
For the first study, researchers randomly assigned almost 6,000 male doctors over the age of 65 to take either a daily Centrum Silver multivitamin or a look-alike placebo pill. Every few years, the researchers gave the men a battery of tests over the telephone to check their memories.
The men in the study were in pretty good health to begin with, and 84 percent said they faithfully took their pills each day.
After 12 years, there was no difference in memory problems between the two groups.
"No matter which way we broke it down, there was a null effect," said study author Jacqueline O'Brien, a research associate at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "Supplements are often marketed to have benefits for brain health and things like that, and this is a pretty clear takeaway message."
The same study, however, had previously found that multivitamins might modestly reduce the risk of cancer and cataracts. Cancer risk was reduced by 8 percent, while the risk of cataracts dropped by 9 percent, compared to a placebo.
In the second study, researchers randomly assigned 1,700 heart attack survivors enrolled in a trial of therapy known as intravenous chelation to a daily regimen of high doses of vitamins and minerals or placebo pills.
Participants were asked to take six large pills a day, and researchers think many developed pill fatigue. Nearly half the participants in each part of the study stopped taking their medication before the end of the study. The average time people stuck with it was about two and a half years.
After an average of 55 months, there was no significant difference between the two groups in a composite measure that counted the number of deaths, second heart attacks, strokes, episodes of serious chest pain and procedures to open blocked arteries.
The third study, a research review, assessed the evidence from 27 studies on vitamin and mineral supplements that included more than 450,000 people. That study, conducted for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, found no evidence that supplements offer a benefit for heart disease or that they delay death from any cause. They found only a minimal benefit for cancer risk.