Study finds multivitamins don’t prevent heart attacks, strokes

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Many of us take a multivitamin and mineral supplement every day, believing that it may protect us against heart disease and stroke. Doctors and nutritionists often encourage this, or at least don’t question it, even though numerous studies have found no evidence that multivitamins do anything to lower the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Adding to that evidence is a new “meta-analysis” that combined the results from 18 individual studies. The result:  “We found no clinical benefit of multivitamin and mineral use to prevent heart attacks, strokes or cardiovascular death,” said Joonseok Kim, M.D., assistant professor of cardiology in the Department of Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, in a news release.

“We meticulously evaluated the body of scientific evidence,” Kim said, evaluating 18 previous studies totaling more than 2 million participants and having an average of 12 years of follow-up. The analysis is published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, an American Heart Association journal.

The problem, as Kim sees it, is that many patients may rely on their daily multivitamin while ignoring the proven steps they could be taking to stay healthy.

“It has been exceptionally difficult to convince people, including nutritional researchers, to acknowledge that multivitamin and mineral supplements don’t prevent cardiovascular diseases,” said Kim. “I hope our study findings help decrease the hype around multivitamin and mineral supplements and encourage people to use proven methods to reduce their risk of cardiovascular diseases — such as eating more fruits and vegetables, exercising and avoiding tobacco.”

Not regulated by the FDA

Controversy about the effectiveness of multivitamin and mineral supplements to prevent cardiovascular diseases has been going on for years, despite numerous well-conducted research studies suggesting they don’t help. The authors set out to combine the results from previously published scientific studies to help clarify the topic.

According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), unlike drugs, there are no provisions in the law for the agency to “approve” dietary supplements for safety or effectiveness before they reach the consumer, nor can the product’s label make health claims to diagnose, cure, mitigate, treat or prevent a disease. As many as 30 percent of Americans use multivitamin and mineral supplements, with the global nutritional supplement industry expected to reach $278 billion by 2024.

“Although multivitamin and mineral supplements taken in moderation rarely cause direct harm, we urge people to protect their heart health by understanding their individual risk for heart disease and stroke and working with a healthcare provider to create a plan that uses proven measures to reduce risk. These include a heart-healthy diet, exercise, tobacco cessation, controlling blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels, and when needed, medical treatment,” Kim said.

The American Heart Association does not recommend using multivitamin or mineral supplements to prevent cardiovascular diseases.

“Eat a healthy diet for a healthy heart and a long, healthy life,” said Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., the American Heart Association’s chief medical officer for prevention and chief of the Association’s Centers for Health Metrics and Evaluation, who was not a part of this study. “There’s just no substitute for a balanced, nutritious diet with more fruits and vegetables that limits excess calories, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, sugar and dietary cholesterol.”

About the Author

Truman Lewis
Truman has been a bureau chief and correspondent in D.C., Los Angeles, Phoenix and elsewhere, reporting for radio, television, print and news services, for more than 30 years. Most recently, he has reported extensively on health and consumer issues for and