The recent study, which was published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, was performed using data from 161,808 female subjects who participated in the federally funded Women’s Health Initiative research project. Over a period of eight years, the 42 percent of the women who used multivitamins regularly were compared with the non-vitamin users. The scientists found that multivitamins gave no benefit to those who took them in any of 10 major health-threat categories.
Some earlier studies had suggested there were benefits from multivitamin use. But they were not as large, nor as rigorous, as the current investigation. “We have very detailed information on what people were taking measured over a period of many years,” said Marian Neuhouser, the lead author and associate member in cancer prevention at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
“We thought there could be a modestly reduced risk, but there is nothing. There is no helpful benefit [from multivitamins], but they’re not hurting either.”Americans spend about $20 billion a year on vitamin and dietary supplements. The Council for Responsible Nutrition, the trade group for the huge industry, said multivitamins can still benefit consumers in ways not considered by the study, and because many people don’t get their full complement of daily essential nutrients from their diet.
“From a practical standpoint, this study does not change the fact that the majority of consumers could benefit from taking an affordable multivitamin,” said Andrew Shao, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs with the council. “It is better to meet these recommendations than not, and consistently taking a multivitamin over the long term could help fill these nutrient gaps, and may help consumers lead healthier lives.”
Neuhouser said the findings of the study will no doubt be a shock for many committed vitamin users, who may tend to reject them. “I don’t want to disparage people who take multivitamins – it’s their choice as a consumer,” Neuhouser said. “What we’re presenting is the science showing it’s neither beneficial nor harmful. If they want to choose to spend their dollars elsewhere, this might be a good place to do so. Perhaps they can buy more fruits and vegetables.”