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The Villages
Friday, August 12, 2022

Are multivitamins a harmful distraction?

Dr. Gabe Mirkin

Last year, North Americans spent more than 30 billion dollars on dietary supplements, and 31 percent of adults reported taking daily multivitamins or vitamin-mineral supplements. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) reviewed 84 studies testing vitamin-mineral supplements in almost 700,000 people (JAMA, 2022;327(23):2326-2333), and found “insufficient evidence” of any benefits that could extend one’s life. For details of this review, see Do You Need Vitamin Pills?

An editorial in the same issue of JAMA notes that “beyond wasted money, the focus on supplements might be viewed as a potentially harmful distraction” (JAMA, 2022;327(23):2294-2295). The authors believe that the money, time and attention that are now given to these supplements would be better used on known evidence-based preventive care, such as:
• not smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke
• checking for high blood pressure and controlling it if needed
• following a healthful diet
• exercising daily
• preventing or treating obesity
• preventing and early treatment of skin cancers or pre-cancers

Specific Supplements for Specific Conditions
The USPSTF study listed various conditions where people could benefit from taking specific nutritional supplements, such as:
• Vegetarians and vegans may need vitamin B12, which is not found in plants
• People with dark skin and those who do not get adequate sunlight may need vitamin D
• Pregnant women are advised to take 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid to prevent neural tube birth defects
• People over 65 may need vitamin B12 and B6 because with aging, you can lose stomach acid and therefore not be able to absorb adequate amounts of these vitamins. They also may need vitamin D because they are less likely to go outside for sun exposure
• People who have weak bones may need vitamin D, but there is significant controversy about whether people who have osteoporosis should take calcium pills because a high rise in blood calcium can affect the parathyroid glands. Many doctors now recommend that people over 65 and those with weak bones should try to obtain sufficient calcium from foods.

My Recommendations
The leading killers of North Americans today are heart attacks and cancers, which have risk factors that can be improved with lifestyle changes. Taking vitamin and mineral pills does not correct the behaviors that promote these diseases. The next time you take a vitamin or mineral pill, ask yourself if you could make a change that would reduce your risk for these killers. See Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle to Treat Many Diseases
Inflammation Can Help or Harm
Reduce Inflammation and Clotting to Prevent Heart Attacks

Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com.

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