Do vitamins make you healthier? Two recent studies disagree on the answer to that. One says vitamins help prevent cancer. And a new one out Monday says they do not help prevent heart attacks or strokes in men. We discuss whether vitamins are crucial to good health. Are supplement-happy Americans going too far?

Duffy Mackay N.D., vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition
J. Michael Gaziano, chief of the division of aging, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Veterans Administration Healthcare System
Jose Luis Mosquera, medical consultant and integrative medicine expert

  • OldVet

    It would be interesting to have this discussion with a knowledgable acupuncturist, naturopath, pharmacist (chemistry wonks), a sports medicine dude and perhaps a physician.

    In acupuncture one spectrum of imbalance is deficiency/excess, and I believe cancers, there are so many kinds of them, often fall in the excess category. Colin Campbell wrote about that in the China Study.

    I believe Ray Kurzweil is a poster child of excess supplements, So American.

  • Rhet

    Vitamin D3 is an effective treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder.

    • Tony Rocco

      Can you offer any documentation to support this claim?

  • Guest

    As a boomer, I and my friends are watching the information about what we need, in our age group and older. Our doctors are telling us, and the literature as well, that absorption decreases with age. Our doctors are testing us for Vitamin D and B12, just as examples and finding our levels low, then prescribing extra supplements.

    Absorption is an issue with decreasing age, is my understanding.

    So, my point is that needs differ according to a number of variables.

  • guest

    Please discuss daily am supplementation of Iodine (150 mcg) and Selenium (50 mcg) and L-Tyrosine (500 mg) to boost a low level of hypothyroidism (5.79 mU/L TSH).

    In lieu of a synthetic hormone medication.

  • Keith

    Do I trust the studies? That depends on who is funding and doing the research. Besides, doesn’t staying healthy require a comprehensive approach of nutrition, exercise, stress management, good genes & some luck & good fortune etc? While not a panacea, I certainly trust vitamins & supplements more than pharmaceuticals, high fructose corn syrup, aspertame and whatever else they’re putting into the processed foods lining the shelves at your average grocery store. With all due respect to Dr. Masscara (sp) I would submit that there are more deaths, complications and addictions caused by drugs prescribed by physicians than caused by vitamins and supplements. Please correct me if I am wrong. How much time is spent studying nutrition in medical school?

  • Naheed attari

    What about vit C? Dad worked in a lab and we grew up adding industrial ascorbic acid to our kool-aid. We four kids are in our late 40s and healthy. I take multis and give them to my kids as well.

  • chrisco

    I have taken vitamins off and on through my 40 plus years. But after seeing reports of studies several years ago, I stopped taking vitamins mostly since it seemed like a waste of money. I can report that there was no change in my health. But I eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. I also eat processed food like breads and Clif Bars so I get added vitamins in there.

  • Norana Caivano, MD

    As an integrative psychiatrist, I often discuss with my patients the risks and benefits of all medicines and vitamins for their mental health. It’s important to realize that people are often searching for a magic cure with no side effects. This really doesn’t exist. It’s important to always discuss how these MAY help but the idea of integrative health is to look at all aspect of biology, psychology, social and spiritual.
    Thanks, Norana Caivano, MD

  • Eve Carlson

    One guest mentioned possible confounding in the study by variables such as exercise, nutrition, etc. that tend to correlate with supplement use. RCTs are done to randomly distribute the effects of such confounding variables across the groups. Can the study author comment on whether data analyses showed that such variance was distributed across the groups or whether analyses controlled for these variables to determine if they were the likely cause of the reductions in cancer observed?

  • dmw2001

    I wonder what Dr. Mackay, who just said that doctors need to confront smokers who would rather take a vitamin than quit, would say about doctors who fail to address dietary issues and simply prescribe cholesterol lowering drugs? I had to slow down my doctor, who was reaching for his pad, and explain that I would rather change diet than go on a drug.

  • Marco

    Th daily recommended values for certain Vitamins are a joke and any doctor advising their patients to take not more than the current recommended daily value of Vit D3 is most likely doing them a big disservice. We used to be outside all day without sunscreen producing plenty of Vitamin D but these days a large portion of people are chronically Vitamin D deficient. There is similar research regarding Vitamin B12.

  • Fred

    The “pharma” caller who talked about putting dirt in a capsule showed pretty clearly that Big Business and its lackeys will always try to thwart smaller companies that compete with them by misrepresenting what small companies do.

  • Tony Rocco

    If people who take vitamin supplements also have healthier living habits in general, how can you tell whether their superior health is due to the vitamins or other factors?

  • Fred

    Many people in Silicon Valley can attest that Vitamin B6 is an effective solution to carpal tunnel syndrome, whereas surgery is expensive and unnecessary.

  • Keith

    It is laughable that your guest doctor would criticize the marketing of supplements and vitamins! Big Pharma spends billions inundating & brainwashing the American consumer and pitching their pills to physicians who in turn push them onto ill-informed patients. Has the doctor ever watched American TV or opened a magazine lately? Ask your doctor about the purple pill, indeed.

  • Fred

    Reminder: Any problems to do with misuse of vitamins do not disprove the existence of huge risks from using Big Pharma’s often unsafe products.

  • I take a normal One-A-Day supplement and was taking an additional 500mg of C. Then, after a kidney stone, realized that taking additional C raises one’s risk of getting them, so, now just taking the multivitamin only.

  • Elen

    Superior health does not come from taking vitamin supplements. It stems from a diet rich in antioxidants, micronutrients and phytochemicals. Eating a standard American diet of meat and potatoes and then taking a vitamin supplement in the hopes of preventing cancer is like wishing on a star.

  • Parisa

    I was told to stay away multi-vitamins, particularly women’s ones, because the calcium in them was making my body produce kidney stones. So, I’ve been without them and “supplementing” with calcium naturally found in healthy foods. Any suggestions?

  • sheepshow

    How can we regulate vitamins when we permit homeopathic pills (which are in fact placebos) to claim they cure diseases?

    • whome doyou

      A placebo by definition is not harmful to the patient because there are no “active” contents in the pill – so what is there to regulate?

  • riptorn

    Dr. Dean Edell once said that the worst thing you can do when you have cancer is to bombard your body with tons of vitamins – his point is that cancer cells are the most aggressive and quick to reproduce, so why would you help them in the process?

  • whome doyou

    I want to dwell on what a previous caller with arthymia mentioned – there is a lot of confusion around the benefits [and complications] of Vitamins generally speaking. I don’t know where to find a comprehensive source of information which tells me what a Vitamin helps me with in my human condition and how I get it from my diet.

    I feel if an individual feels they want to live with supplements or go with mainly a healthy diet that should be their choice.

    I find a diet brings more to the table, pardon the pun, than just [mulit-] vitamins.

    But when it comes to the healthy diet – the lack of comprehensive source of information against which I can go query is my biggest source of annoyance. I feel staying away from vitamins and with a healthy diet will help most people avoid the [necessary] complications associated with ‘popping’ most pills.

  • Lon Murphy

    I am a cancer survivor. I was seemingly healthy and in shape when diagnosed. I changed my diet and supplement intake, in response to my inquiries at that time. I had radiation treatment. I have maintained my “cancer diet” and supplements now for 7 years. I pay attention to updates on supplement and diet studies. Whether ultimately right or wrong, I take a handful of supplements daily. I choose to take these supplements as opposed to doing nothing. What I don’t see are any studies related to combining supplements. I do think that this industry does need to be taken seriously and does need to be regulated.

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