All those vitamin pills you take might be a waste of time, except one

29 May 2018

Image: Saowanee K/Shutterstock

A new study looking into the effects of vitamin and mineral supplements on the human body has shown that in nearly all cases, they provide no actual health benefits.

As millions of people across the world become more health-conscious, sales of vitamin and mineral supplements have skyrocketed, rising from $50bn in 2007 to more than $100bn in 2017.

After all, it seems logical that if you want to improve your wellbeing, taking additional vitamins and minerals would help make up where you’re lacking in your daily food intake, right?

Future Human

Well now, according to the American College of Cardiology, a new study has shown that most commonly consumed vitamin and mineral supplements provide no consistent health benefits.

The problem lies in the fact that while these supplements have long been used to treat nutrient deficiencies in patients, this has now been replaced by companies claiming they will provide greater longevity and a more healthy life overall.

To determine if there were any benefits, the study looked at 179 randomised controlled trials on vitamin and mineral supplement use published from January 2012 to October 2017.

By looking through the available data, the researchers found that the four most common supplements – multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium and vitamin C – showed no consistent benefit for the prevention of cardiovascular disease, myocardial infarction, stroke and lifespan.

A silver lining

However, a silver lining for supplement takers was found with folic acid alone, as B-complex vitamins in which folic acid was a component did show a reduction in stroke.

However, niacin (vitamin B3) and antioxidants were associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality.

This benefit of folic acid was found in a Chinese study published in 2015, and now the Journal of the American College of Cardiology study shows a 20pc reduction in stroke with folic acid alone.

Speaking of what the limitations of the study were, the team led by Dr David Jenkins of the University of Toronto said that it did consider data from cohort studies, which are longer and more representative of the general population than randomised clinical trials.

Also, grouping many types of antioxidants may have been suboptimal since their mechanisms of action may also be very different.

“Whether these [datasets] are sufficient to change clinical practice in areas of the world where folic acid food fortification is already in place is still a matter for discussion,” Jenkins said.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic