By Brittany Patterson
Toss those vitamin bottles and instead opt for a well-balanced diet if you’re looking to prevent heart disease or cancer.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released new recommendations Monday regarding both multivitamins and certain supplements — and their potential to help prevent heart disease and cancer. The task force “concludes that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms” of the use of multivitamins, vitamins, minerals and other dietary supplements to prevent heart disease or cancer.
The task force is, however, recommending against use of beta-carotene and vitamin E supplements.
“It’s essential to know that science has told us something — vitamin E and beta-carotene, they don’t work and sometimes cause harm,” said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a cardiovascular epidemiologist at UC San Francisco and member of the task force.
The recommendations apply to healthy adults ages 50 and older who do not have any special nutritional needs.
The task force, a 16-member volunteer panel of national experts in prevention that makes evidence-based recommendations about preventive services — including screenings and medications — examined recent studies and found mostly inconclusive evidence.
For vitamin E they found no net preventive benefit, but for beta-carotene the research showed increased risk for lung cancer in some people, including those who smoke or are exposed to asbestos.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year. Nearly as many people die of all forms of cancer combined.
Vitamin and supplement use has been on the rise in the United States. In 2011, the CDC reported that more than half of adult Americans take at least one dietary supplement, such as multivitamins, minerals and herbs.
According to Bibbins-Domingo, some vitamins are essential for certain biological processes in the body, and researchers are examining how some of them, such as antioxidants, might have protective qualities. But, she said, the research hasn’t shown these nutrients work when people take them as individual supplements.
This new recommendation is an update to one the task force initially made in 2003. The panel has the option to revisit its stance on issues every five years if new evidence is available, Bibbins-Domingo said. In this case new studies had been done, but the evidence was still not enough to make a recommendation either way for most supplements.
A diet with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products and seafood has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer.
“If you’re taking supplements because you want to prevent heart disease and cancer, there’s just not enough evidence,” she said. “If your goal is to prevent heart disease and cancer, a healthy, balanced diet is the way to go.”