Should You Take Vitamins?

By Diane Archer

Liz Szabo reports in The New York Times that older Americans are popping supplements like candy. Doctors may recommend certain vitamins like vitamin D and folic acid, and dozens of others are marketed widely. But, the evidence suggests that most of these supplements offer no health benefits for otherwise healthy individuals and that some ingredients in some supplements do harm. Should you be taking vitamins?

If you are otherwise healthy, speak with your doctor. You should likely skip the vitamin pills and instead eat a balanced diet. The preponderance of independent studies on almost all supplements suggests that the benefits are at best negligible and the dangers, at times, significant.

For example, the biggest studies show that vitamin E and folic acid supplements do not promote heart health. What’s worse, the studies show that too much vitamin E can mean you are at higher risk of heart failure, prostate cancer and death from any cause.

Still, nearly 7 in 10 older adults take at least 1 vitamin and nearly 3 in 10 take 4 or more of them. There appears to be a misplaced belief that you can get more of the nutrients you need from vitamin pills and that more vitamins in your system is better for your health. But, pills are generally no substitute for eating a healthy diet, some ingredients in some vitamins can cause serious health risks, and taking more vitamins can be harmful to your health.

Before believing the “experts” and spending your money on a supplement, you might want to review the scientific evidence at the Cochrane Library. Cochrane is a global independent network of researchers, professionals, carers, patients and people interested in health. The people at Cochrane “gather and summarize the best evidence from research to help you make informed choices about treatments.”

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