That's according to a new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Here are highlights from the study, which included 161,800 postmenopausal U.S. women followed for about eight years:
- About 42% of the women reported taking multivitamins.
- During the study period, new cases of certain cancers (including breast cancer, lung cancer, and colorectal cancer), heart disease, and deaths from any cause were similar in women taking multivitamins and those not taking multivitamins.
Data came from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI), a long-term women's health study. Because the WHI only included postmenopausal women, it's not clear if the findings apply to other groups of people.
In a news release, researcher Marian Neuhouser, PhD, says that it was a "surprise" to find that "multivitamins did not lower the risk of the most common cancers and also had no impact on heart disease."
"Whole foods are better than dietary supplements. Getting a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is particularly important," says Neuhouser, who works in Seattle at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Supplements Industry Responds
In a statement responding to Neuhouser's study, Shao says that "multivitamins, like all other dietary supplements, are meant to be used as part of an overall healthy lifestyle; they are not intended to be magic bullets that will assure the prevention of chronic diseases, like cancer."
Shao points out that most Americans don't get the recommended amounts of various essential nutrients from their diets. "Consistently taking a multivitamin over the long term could help fill these nutrient gaps and may help consumers lead healthier lives," Shao says.