Does taking a vitamin make you healthier?

Vitamins and minerals are the most commonly sold supplements in the United States.  Every year, $14 billion is spent purchasing vitamins and minerals.

Does taking a vitamin or mineral supplement make you healthier?  Two major studies, one from Harvard and one from the National Institute of Health, failed to find any benefit from taking vitamin or mineral tablets compared to taking a placebo.

Some vitamins and minerals have actually  been found to cause problems!  One study found that women who take a multivitamin tablet have a shorter life expectancy compared to those who don’t take vitamins.  Another study found that taking an iron supplement was linked to a higher mortality rate.  The Mayo Clinic found that taking vitamin E increased the risk of heart failure and death, and that taking Vitamin B6 increased the risk of nerve pain and seizures.  A study on Vitamin A to see if it reduced lung cancer in smokers found that it actually increased the risk of getting cancer by 18%!

What about calcium?  Many women take calcium to prevent bone loss with age.  However to date there are no studies that show effectiveness of taking daily calcium pills.  One study found an increased risk of heart attacks when taking calcium.

Are there exceptions?  Absolutely.  Pregnant women and patients with diagnosed vitamin or mineral deficiencies may have to take supplements to improve their health. For example,  patients with anemia may need to take an iron supplement.  There are also some patients who cannot absorb certain vitamins such as vitamin B12, and so supplementation is needed in that situation.  However, in general, eating a well balanced diet appears to be superior compared to taking a vitamin or mineral supplement.

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