Vitamins and Supplements Are a “Waste of Money” for Most Americans
There’s no ‘magic set of pills to keep you healthy.’ Diet and exercise are key.
Drawn to the allure of multivitamins and dietary supplements filling nutritional gaps in their diet, people spent close to $50 billion on vitamins and dietary supplements in 2021 in the United States.
But Northwestern Medicine scientists say for non-pregnant, otherwise healthy Americans, vitamins are a waste of money because there isn’t enough evidence they help prevent cardiovascular disease or cancer.
“Patients ask all the time, ‘What supplements should I be taking?’ They’re wasting money and focus thinking there has to be a magic set of pills that will keep them healthy when we should all be following the evidence-based practices of eating healthy and exercising,” said Dr. Jeffrey Linder, chief of general internal medicine in the department of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“[Patients are] wasting money and focus thinking there has to be a magic set of pills that will keep them healthy when we should all be following the evidence-based practices of eating healthy and exercising.” — Dr. Jeffrey Linder, Chief of general internal medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Linder and fellow Northwestern Medicine scientists wrote an editorial that was published today (June 21, 2022) in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that supports new recommendations from the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent panel of national experts that frequently makes evidence-based recommendations about clinical preventive services.
Based on a systematic review of 84 studies, the USPSTF’s new guidelines state there was “insufficient evidence” that taking multivitamins, paired supplements or single supplements can help prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer in otherwise healthy, non-pregnant adults.
“The task force is not saying ‘don’t take multivitamins,’ but there’s this idea that if these were really good for you, we’d know by now,” Linder said.
The task force is specifically recommending against taking beta-carotene supplements because of a possible increased risk of lung cancer, and is recommending against taking vitamin E supplements because it has no net benefit in reducing mortality, cardiovascular disease or cancer.
“The harm is that talking with patients about supplements during the very limited time we get to see them, we’re missing out on counseling about how to really reduce cardiovascular risks, like through exercise or smoking cessation,” Linder said.
People in the U.S. in 2021 spent close to $50 billion on vitamins and dietary supplements.
More than half of Americans take vitamins. Why?
More than half of U.S. adults take dietary supplements, and the use of supplements is projected to increase, Linder and his colleagues wrote in the JAMA editorial.
Eating fruits and vegetables is associated with decreased cardiovascular disease and cancer risk, they said, so it is reasonable to think key vitamins and minerals could be extracted from fruits and vegetables, packaged into a pill, and save people the trouble and expense of maintaining a balanced diet. But, they explain, whole fruits and vegetables contain a mixture of vitamins, phytochemicals, fiber, and other nutrients that probably act synergistically to deliver health benefits. Micronutrients in isolation may act differently in the body than when naturally packaged with a host of other dietary components.
Linder noted individuals who have a vitamin deficiency can still benefit from taking dietary supplements, such as calcium and vitamin D, which have been shown to prevent fractures and maybe falls in older adults.
New guidelines do not apply to pregnant people
The new USPSTF guidelines do not apply to people who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, said JAMA editorial co-author Dr. Natalie Cameron, an instructor of general internal medicine at Feinberg.
“Pregnant individuals should keep in mind that these guidelines don’t apply to them,” said Cameron, who also is a Northwestern Medicine physician. “Certain vitamins, such as folic acid, are essential for pregnant women to support healthy fetal development. The most common way to meet these needs is to take a prenatal vitamin. More data is needed to understand how specific vitamin supplementation may modify risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes and cardiovascular complications during pregnancy.”
Additionally, recent research from Northwestern has found most women in the U.S. have poor heart health prior to becoming pregnant. Cameron said that, in addition to discussing vitamin supplementation, working with patients to optimize cardiovascular health prior to pregnancy is an important component of prenatal care.
Eating healthy, exercising is ‘easier said than done’
Dr. Jenny Jia, a co-author of the JAMA editorial who studies the prevention of chronic diseases in low-income families through lifestyle interventions, said healthy eating can be a challenge when the U.S. industrialized food system does not prioritize health.
“To adopt a healthy diet and exercise more, that’s easier said than done, especially among lower-income Americans,” said Jia, an instructor of general internal medicine at Feinberg and a Northwestern Medicine physician. “Healthy food is expensive, and people don’t always have the means to find environments to exercise—maybe it’s unsafe outdoors or they can’t afford a facility. So, what can we do to try to make it easier and help support healthier decisions?”
Over the past few years, Jia has been working with charitable food pantries and banks that supply free groceries to people who are in need to try to help clients pick healthier choices from the food pantries as well as educate those who donate to provide healthier options or money.
Reference: “Multivitamins and Supplements—Benign Prevention or Potentially Harmful Distraction?” by Jenny Jia, MD, MSc; Natalie A. Cameron, MD and Jeffrey A. Linder, MD, MPH, 21 June 2022, JAMA.
FALSE. FALSE. FALSE………….YOUR HEART NEEDS OPTIUM LEVELS OF NUTRIENTS TO KEEP THE ELECTRICAL CHARGE ESPECIALLY AS U AGE………..DOCTORS DONT KNOW AND OR WILL NOT TELL YOU …….THEY WILL WANT TO INSTALL A PACEMAKER……….UR JOINTS , EYES, NEED the same……..ur muscles need nutrients……ur immune system also………. U will not get ur required need from ur diet…………..
So, Dr. Jeffrey Linder, chief of internal medicine in the department of medicine at the School of Medicine says there’s “no magic set of pills that will keep people healthy…eat healthy and exercise”. It took him becoming basically the king of medicine to discover pills don’t help. Thanks Dr. Jeff.
And Dr. Jenny Jia discovered we don’t eat healthy or exercise because we can’t. Thanks Dr. Jen
This was an entertaining generalized dose of nihilism. We’re all gonna die. Thanks Scit Echd Aily.
This article is very harmful to people. It is wrong, completely wrong. I have found that the right supplements like Vitamin B Complex, Omega 3, digestive enzymes, Silymarin, Magnesium, Propolis to be so important for health. For example, my wife and I cured our rheumatism by taking Vitamin B Complex, I cured my night fatigue by taking Omega 3. Some doctors keep saying you get enough vitamins, minerals and so forth from eating good food. I found that to be untrue. When you age it is very important that you eat the right nutrients through supplements. But there are some supplements like calcium that have been found to be harmful. Just research more and take the right ones such as those suggested earlier and you will be healthy in your old age.
Pregnant people?. You mean women, right?
I understand that there is no magic bullet. But I will continue to take supplements and keep informed as possible about the quality and ‘absorption’ issues with them. I appreciate research, and I also appreciate the way my own body feels as a result of my choices. Thank you for your information.
Just what Big Pharma wants you to hear. The only “medicine” that anyone should take is the synthetic molecules they create, patent and spend billions marketing as well as influencing media to write this crap. I could site hundreds of clinically controlled trials that support the various use of different supplements for different ailments, but anyone can find these through a simple search on PubMed – just type in any major supplement such as Vitamin D and see for yourself, BTW, all of us who take various supplements don’t do it at the exclusion of diet in exercise- that is simple a straw man that the article creates.
This article is rather misleading. Even if the main claims were true and there’s insufficient evidence that vitamin and other supplements do not prevent cancer or heart disease, that doesn’t say anything about their role or effectiveness beyond cancer and heart disease prevention, as the author seems to imply. It is well know that vitamins often serve as catalysts in the body – they allow vital biochemical processes to occur, even if they themselves are not one of the reagents in a given reaction. There’s of course also a large body of evidence and experience showing that pure, high quality supplements can have an impact on one’s health, after all, it’s all chemistry. As someone who suffered with pernicious (B12) anemia for years, and then fully recovered within months of starting a high dose supplement, I personally know that for some of us, the correct supplementation is part of good diet.
I don’t put act stock in medical advice regarding vitamin supplementation from an agency that understand little of nutrition. They don’t teach nutrition to medical students(other than an 8-hour syllabus),and are so controlled by big pharma as to be their lobbyists.
It’s no secret that medical schools and other institutions are funded by drug companies. To those in the know, this article is laughable.
I believe they are saying the best way to get vitamins for most people is through diet. And that something like exercise is more effective at protecting your health than certain supplements. To say a supplement worked for you is well and good but it does not control for bias as the clinical trials they refer to do. There is lots of research supporting certain vitamins for certain ailments, but this research does not necessarily say to get that vitamin through supplement form. And that is the author’s overall point
The article does not address the fact that the way our food is produced, they are lacking many of the vitamins and minerals that supplements are made to make up for. I also suspect that the vitamins they tested are like Centrum, which is essentially a little stone and difficult for the body to get the micronutrients out of. There have been cases where people had to clean out their septic tanks to discover that the vitamins pill they swallowed after breakfast ended up passing through their bodies without a scratch, and the person could still read the brand name of the vitamin. One has to go through the expense to buy and use whole foods vitamins that include various supporting micronutrients in order for the vitamins to be properly digested.
Remember folks, it’s the medical industry saying this.. the modern version of death camps
Roger Yu got that right
Pregnant people ? OMG I bet your one of the woke. Please define a WOMAN and use it when referring to oregban5 women !!, do more research
before writing your misinformation about benefits of suppliments.
With so many foods processed and manipulated to grow faster and ripen quicker, many foods are lacking in vitamins minerals and nutritive value. Supplements are like an insurance policy assuring you meet all your daily needs.
This is a completely untrue article as well as oddly written. Firstly, from my own long-term use of supplements, I have benefited from their positive effects on me regarding anti-aging as well as every other other aspect of my life, including cognition, energy, and stress management. Yes, I also have exercised regularly most of the time, but not always. During the times I have failed using supplements because of time or circumstance, I have suffered the drastic consequences of not taking them: low energy, stamina, brain fog, worse sleep, dull skin, etc. When I resume my program, even just taking one multivitamin derived from whole foods, there’s definite improvement. When I add the fullness of my program, I feel exponentially better.
Secondly, there is NO WAY a person can eat enough food to get all of their dietary needs met, particularly in modernity because so much of our food has been tampered with and/ or depleted from farmland exhaustion.
Thirdly, mainstream medicine and doctors are taught, no IMPRESSED upon, that vitamins and supplements aren’t helpful because,IMHO, it doesn’t help their narrative and bottom line.
Fourthly, it’s not pregnant “people”, it’s pregnant women.
Fifthly, it’s difficult to take a doctor, or anyone, seriously who says to “eat healthy”, when it’s correctly “eat healthfully” or “eat healthily”. A fifth grader should know the difference, and this is supposed to be professional medical advice, not just off-the-cuff informal, though still shamefully incorrect, chit-chat.
Do your research, use whole food supplements, and live a healthier, happier life. 😊
Can these pills cure cancer
This is terrible advice/opinion! A better article would be about which companies to buy supplements from, when to take them and how to take them. The reason most people don’t benefit from supplements is 3-fold:
1) Fake ingredients- research the manufacturers of the products you purchase (a good rule of thrums is to avoid products sold on Amazon. Tons of fake rice powder is being sold as supplements)
2) Many supplements are not bio available (your body doesn’t absorb them well). There are ways to help your body absorb better (methylated B12 vs just B12 is a good example.)
3) cycle your intake – research the best way to take in quantities. For example if the suggested dose is 2 capsules per day don’t take them both at the same time, split them up at different times.
It would be very helpful to consumers if you wrote an article on this topic.
I have a doctorate in medical microbiology and I’m a former professor in 2 medical schools. To suggest that doctors are educated in the field of supplementation is erroneous and actually laughable. They are the last people that you want to listen to regarding supplementation.
Stupid article! Especially since they tried to take control of supplements back in the 90s by trying to classify them as Drugs. This caused such a fire storm of protests, especially from seniors and those in the fitness industry that congressmen who advocated this had to back down. But then later many of the elites bought out many of the vitamin manufacturers and replaced the original formulas with Cheap ingredients and fillers. So what now???? Are they tired of making cheap supplements and attempting to get rid of them because they no longer Want to be bothered altogether and want to deprive the population of what the CAN utilize to keep themselves healthy?? Evil is rearing its ugly head Again.This is Nothing but a form of population Reduction. Don’t buy This Crap!!!!!!
I started taking D3 2 and 1/2 years ago. Subsequent lab tests show that my D3 levels are well above those of my age group (I’m 72), and my PCP is very happy with my results.
I am proud of being called A Vitamin
Junkie!And not another kind of ‘junkie’! Retired health science school teacher, and at 70 years young
I was approached by A handsome Young Man as I was walking my dog and was asked out to lunch,I looked at this Gentleman 27yrs!I asked if I could hug him..he said yes!VITAMINS AND EXCERSISE AND VEGAN FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE!
This makes no sense. The idea that suppplements are useless, except in pregnant people, is contradictory. Either they’re useless or they’re not. How can they be they beneficial in pregnant women but not for anyone else? If they’re unless then why are so many foods mandated to be fortified by the government, such as breads, cereals, milk, even salt? Why bother fortifying foods if supplements are useless? Some supplements and herbal formulas are extremely beneficial and have been proven so for many years, centuries even. Yes, of course we should eat as healthfully as possible, but taking certain supplements for particular conditions or deficiencies is absolutely beneficial and in many cases better for us than to take drugs that can have serious side effects. Except that taking supplements won’t enrich big pharma.
Interesting when I go for my checkups they always tell me to take myvitamins.
I am so appalled with this article! There IS plenty of scientific evidence supporting the many benefits of various vitamins and supplements. This article should be removed immediately due to people being mislead!
So, the vitamins work for pregnant women, but not others? Hmmm. They may not help us live longer, but they may help to prevent some diseases.