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Money down the drain: vitamins and supplements have no benefit and can even harm health

A new study says the vitamins and supplements countless people are taking to improve their health are a waste of money. Study Finds.

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Researchers at Northwestern University say their health benefits are mostly due to self-hypnosis, and some supplements may even do more harm than good.

In 2018, almost six in 50 Americans took supplements regularly, according to the CDC. Last year, Americans spent nearly $XNUMX billion on vitamins and supplements. However, the research team says there is no "magic pill set to keep you healthy." Instead, diet and exercise are still the key to good health.

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"Patients ask all the time, 'What supplements should I take?'" lead author Dr. Jeffrey Linder of Northwestern University said in a press release.

“They are wasting money and focusing on the idea that there must be a magic pill set to keep them healthy when we should all be following science-based healthy eating and exercise methods,” he says.

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Multivitamin tablets are especially popular because they contain a mixture of a dozen or so vital nutrients. The Health Food Manufacturers Association reports that more than a third of people feel they are not getting everything they need from their diet.

However, a systematic review of 84 studies found "insufficient evidence" that taking multivitamins, paired or single supplements prevents cardiovascular disease and cancer. This review was produced by scientists from the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent panel of experts that makes evidence-based recommendations.

"The task force is not saying 'don't take multivitamins', but the idea is that if they were really good for you, we would already know," Linder explains.

They specifically advise against taking beta-carotene supplements due to a possible increased risk of lung cancer.

“The harm is that by talking to patients about supplements for the very limited time we see them, we are missing out on advice on how to really reduce cardiovascular risk, for example through exercise or quitting smoking.” - continues the author of the study.

Your fruits and vegetables have a special combination

Writing for JAMA, Dr. Linder and colleagues say that more than half of American adults take vitamins and supplements, and their popularity is projected to rise significantly over the next decade. According to scientists, eating fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Thus, it is reasonable to think that essential vitamins and minerals can be extracted and packaged in tablets, eliminating the hassle and expense of maintaining a balanced diet. Unfortunately, the researchers explain that only real fruits and vegetables contain an important blend of natural vitamins, plant chemicals, fiber, and other nutrients that are likely to improve your health.

Micronutrients alone may act differently in the body than when packaged naturally with many other nutritional components. Dr. Linder notes that people with vitamin deficiencies may still benefit from taking nutritional supplements such as calcium and vitamin D. Previous research has shown that they may prevent fractures in older people.

The revised recommendations do not apply to women who are pregnant or planning to start a family.

"Pregnant women should remember that these recommendations do not apply to them," says co-author Dr. Natalie Cameron, an instructor in general internal medicine at Northwestern University.

“Some vitamins, such as folic acid, are essential for pregnant women to support healthy fetal development. The most common way to meet these needs is to take prenatal vitamins. More data is needed to understand how certain vitamin supplements can change the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes and cardiovascular complications during pregnancy,” she said.

Overcoming the cost of healthy eating

Recent studies have shown that the majority of women in the US had poor heart health prior to pregnancy. Dr. Cameron says that discussing vitamin supplementation and optimizing cardiovascular disease prior to pregnancy is an important component of prenatal care. However, healthy eating can become a problem when US food manufacturers focus on processed foods containing fat, sugar and salt.

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"Easier said than done. It's hard to switch to a healthy diet and exercise more, especially among low-income Americans, says co-author Dr. Jenny Jia. “Healthy food is expensive and people don't always have the means to find facilities to exercise—maybe it's not safe outside or they can't afford the equipment. So what can we do to simplify the process and support healthier decisions?”

Dr. Jia works with charity food pantries and banks that provide free groceries to help people choose healthier lifestyles and encourage sponsors to provide healthier options or money.

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