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A multivitamin a day won’t keep the doctor away


Although people think that multivitamins are critical to health, taking a daily multivitamin for many years didn’t cut the mortality risk in an analysis of three prospective cohort studies that involved more than 20 years of follow-up. Taking multivitamins may increase the risk of death.

Anyone who reads my articles knows that I am very skeptical of vitamins and supplements, and this new research seems to provide more evidence to support my skepticism. Just to be clear, certain health conditions require taking multivitamins or a specific vitamin or mineral, such as folic acid during pregnancy.

As I usually do, I’ll review the results from the paper and give you my take on it.

photo of medicines on person s palm
Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

Multivitamin and mortality study

In a paper published on 3 June 2024 in the respected JAMA Network Open, Erikka Loftfield, PhD, MPH, National Cancer Institute, and colleagues analyzed data on 390,124 participants from three prospective cohort studies in the USA — NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study (n=327,732), the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial (n=42,732), and the Agricultural Health Study (n=19,660).

Participants had baseline assessments from 1993 to 2001, with follow-up occurring from 1998 to 2004, as well as extended follow-up of up to 27 years, with a median of 23.5 years of follow-up overall. The first follow-up period included the initial 12 years of follow-up, and the second period included the last 15 years of follow-up.

Patients were considered healthy at baseline, with no history of cancer or other chronic diseases. The median age was 61.4, and 55.4% were male. They self-reported multivitamin use (which is a weakness of these types of studies).

Here are the key results of the study:

  • Daily multivitamin use was associated with a slightly increased risk of death (about 4%) in the first half of follow-up compared with taking no multivitamin. I don’t think we can consider this clinically significant.
  • There was also no mortality benefit for multivitamins in the second half of the follow-up.
  • Multivitamin use did not affect individual causes of death including heart disease, cancer, and cerebrovascular disease.

In 2022, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force stated that there was insufficient evidence supporting the harms or benefits of daily multivitamin use on mortality. The task force noted that past studies on multivitamin use were limited by confounders such as users’ health. For example, individuals who take multivitamins may have healthier lifestyle habits such as diet, exercise, and not smoking. Moreover, patients diagnosed with diseases may increase their multivitamin use because of their perceived health benefits.

Summary

This study shows that multivitamin use is not going to reduce or increase your risk of death or developing chronic diseases. Healthier habits such as a good diet, exercise, and never smoking probably have a much higher effect on mortality and chronic disease.

Citations

Michael Simpson
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