Doctors write that vitamin supplements are a waste of money

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 December, 2013, 11:14pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 December, 2013, 3:56am


Doctors writing in a leading medical journal have offered blunt advice to customers of the multibillion-dollar supplement industry: "Stop wasting money",

In an unusually direct opinion piece, the five authors said that for healthy people worried about chronic disease, there was no clear benefit to taking vitamin and mineral pills, and they may even cause harm.

The authors excepted vitamin D, which they said needed further research. Even so, widespread use of the vitamin "is not based on solid evidence that benefits outweigh harms", the authors wrote. For others "the case is closed".

"The message is simple," the editorial continued. "Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided."

"We have so much information from so many studies," Dr Cynthia Mulrow, senior deputy editor of Annals of Internal Medicine and an author of the editorial, said. "We don't need a lot more evidence to put this to bed."

Officials at the Natural Products Association, a trade organisation that represents supplement suppliers and retailers, said they were shocked by what they called "an attack" on their industry, pointing to a study published last year that found a modest reduction in overall cancers in a long, randomised, controlled trial of 15,000 male doctors.

But whether regular, long-term supplement use prevents heart disease and cancer has never been clearly established, and the editorial authors were not the first to point that out.

The Cochrane Collaboration, which publishes reviews of medical evidence, concluded that vitamins do not extend life.

An updated review of the evidence by the US Preventive Services Task Force also found there was limited evidence that vitamins and minerals could prevent cancer or cardiovascular disease.