Much of the population consumes vitamin or mineral supplements. The reasons for this are very diverse, though in many cases is to “compensate” poor nutrition. Another reason as recently indicated by the University of Harvard is the effect of advertising that often accompanies such supplements, which wants to convince us that they have super benefits and even magical qualities. In the midst of popular beliefs and hundreds of promotion about vitamin supplements, it is a valid question if such supplements can really replace a healthy diet. Do they have the ability to prevent diseases such as cardiovascular diseases or cancer, which are the leading causes of death in this country? This article will address these issues and summarize the main findings of one of the latest and most rigorous studies on the subject.
Vitamin and mineral supplements: Myths and Facts
They are credited with the ability to prevent oxidation and, with it, the cell damage. That’s the theory that shelters today’s antioxidant supplements. The practice, however, indicates something different: it is not clear that these supplements are “healthy” and may not be safe. What about vitamins and minerals? Is it possible to take the benefits of healthier foods in a pill? Can laboratories encapsulate the benefits of nature’s products?
The renowned journal “Annals of Internal Medicine” is one of the most cited in the field of medicine. That is why it has had such an impact and fuss on the media. Part of the premise of the research that was published in November 2013: “The results of the studies that have been supplemented with vitamins have been, at best cases disappointing.” The investigation is called ‘Vitamin and mineral supplements in the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer’ and has been coordinated by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), one of the 12 health agencies in the United States.
The study was designed with the aim to find out, according to the review of all available evidence, whether vitamin and mineral supplements prevent cardiovascular disease or cancer, but above all was done to update the 2003 recommendations of the US Preventive Services Task Force. These recommendations were as follows:
There is insufficient evidence to recommend or not recommend the use of vitamins A, C, and E, multivitamins with folic acid, or antioxidant combinations for the prevention of cardiovascular disease or cancer.
The use of beta-carotene supplements, alone or in combination is not recommended because it has no proven benefit and can cause damage in adults with the risk of lung cancer.
The new findings, ten years later, are also disappointing:
There is no evidence to indicate that vitamin or mineral supplements have an effect in preventing cardiovascular diseases, cancer or mortality in a healthy population.
In most cases, there is insufficient data to draw conclusions.
The lack of benefit from supplements of vitamin E and beta-carotene is quite clear.
It is inadvisable to continue studying on supplements containing beta-carotene and vitamins A, C, and E in the general population other than those who are deficient in these nutrients.
There are data that indicate some decrease in the risk of cancer in men (not women) who take multivitamins, but as the effect, besides being marginal, was not observed in women, “it becomes very difficult to conclude that multivitamin supplementation is beneficial.”
Beta-carotene supplements “increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers.”
These results, in any case, are not applicable to the proven benefits of certain supplements in situations where there are vitamins and mineral deficiency, for example, in cases of iron deficiency anemia or in specific physiological conditions such as pregnancy and lactation. This is the case, for example, supplements of folic acid in pregnant women.