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Articles March 2015 Issue

No Heart Benefit Seen for Women Taking Multivitamins

Cardiovascular findings echo prior results for men taking multivitamins.

Multivitamin supplements are no substitute for a nutritious diet in preventing cardiovascular disease, according to a large new study of multivitamin use in women. Despite the widespread use of multivitamin supplements, few studies have investigated whether they reduce the risk of major chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease. In 2012, results from the Physicians’ Health Study II did report that, among a group of US male physicians, taking a daily multivitamin did not reduce major cardiovascular events, heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular mortality after more than a decade of treatment and follow-up.

Now a large study has found similarly disappointing results in women: Among 37,193 participants in the Women’s Health Study, multivitamin use was not associated with reduced short- or long-term risk of major cardiovascular events, including heart attack, stroke and death. (Unlike the men’s study, which was a randomized clinical trail, the women’s study was an observational population study.)

“We now have yet another study that concludes with respect to diet and heart disease there is no quick fix or easy short cuts—just popping a nutrient supplement will not help,” says Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, director of Tufts’ HNRCA Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory.

NO SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE: The women in the study were age 45 and older and initially free of cardiovascular disease and cancer; they self-reported on a wide range of lifestyle, medical and dietary factors, including whether they took a daily multivitamin. Over an average follow-up of 16.2 years, researchers tracked 1,493 new cases of major cardiovascular events.

They found no significant difference in risk between women who reported taking multivitamins and those who did not take multivitamins—even women who had been taking multivitamins for 10 years or more when the study began. The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Lead author Susanne Rautiainen, PhD, of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, commented in an interview about the results, “Taken together, today there is limited evidence to recommend for or against the use of multivitamins in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. A healthy diet characterized by high amounts of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fish should be recommended to avoid nutritional deficiencies and in the prevention of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease.”

Tufts’ Lichtenstein adds, “This follows a series of studies demonstrating the futility of taking a nutrient supplement in a population that is most likely meeting their vitamin requirements. With so many fortified foods on the market, that is not surprising.”

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