Middle-aged men who pop a multivitamin every day for a decade aren’t likely to reduce their heart disease risk as a result, researchers found.
A different look at the same men last month found Pfizer Inc.’s Centrum Silver multivitamin slashed cancer risk 8 percent. Today’s study, which also used Pfizer’s pill, was presented at the American Medical Association’s annual meeting in Los Angeles and appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study of 14,641 male doctors ages 50 and older is the first long-term trial examining the benefits of vitamins that are used by about one-third of Americans, the researchers said. The results suggest daily multivitamins have a variety of effects, and consumers need to know they don’t prevent heart disease or reduce the need for a healthy diet and plenty of exercise, said Howard Sesso, the lead researcher.
“Given the fact that we see a beneficial cancer effect, we don’t see any reason not to take a multivitamin,” said Sesso, an associate epidemiologist in preventive medicine at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston.
“We don’t find this trial to be remotely disappointing,” he said, pointing out it provides the only definitive long-term safety data on the popular supplement.
The study found no differences in the risk of major heart complications, including heart attack and stroke, or death from heart disease. Multivitamins didn’t lower the risk of heart failure, chest pain or the need for artery-clearing procedures. There were also no safety concerns, said senior author Michael Gaziano, chief of the division of aging at Brigham & Women’s.
The results didn’t change depending on the health of the physicians before the study began. Those who had existing heart disease also reaped no cardiovascular benefit.
Multivitamins include all the essential vitamins and minerals recommended daily, potentially replicating what is found in a healthy diet, the researchers said. Previous results have been mixed about their cardiovascular benefits and ability to lengthen life. They generate $5.2 billion in sales each year in the U.S., according to the Nutrition Business Journal.
“There are many reasons people take multivitamins,” said William Zoghbi, president of the American College of Cardiology and director of cardiovascular imaging at Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center in Houston. “They often think they will feel better or their overall health will be better. In the vast majority of cases, that’s not the case.”
Too many Americans aren’t taking proper care of themselves and their health is likely to suffer, Zoghbi said in a telephone interview. The first line of defense is exercise, a heart healthy diet, no smoking and medicines to treat conditions like hypertension and high blood pressure, he said.
The main danger of vitamins is that they distract people from taking actions that will actually improve their health, wrote Eva Lonn, of McMaster University and Hamilton General Hospital in Ontario, in an editorial accompanying the study.
Many people who are at risk of heart disease lead sedentary lifestyles, eat fast food, smoke and stop taking their prescription medicines, yet still regularly take a multivitamin in hopes of preventing heart attacks and strokes, Lonn wrote.
“Vitamins aren’t going to be the answer for reducing these risks,” Zoghbi said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”
The National Institutes of Health and BASF Corp. helped fund the trial. New York-based Pfizer supplied the vitamins and matching placebo pills.