Do vitamins and other supplements live up to their promise? from the Harvard Men's Health Watch

Dietary supplements are wildly popular. Over one millions Americans take at least one supplement. The attraction is understandable. Many people want to optimize their health and well-being. The supplement industry has a strong financial interest in meeting this need and promoting their products. But manufacturers do not need to prove the purity, strength, safety, or effectiveness of supplements. And the law does not require proof that claims on the label are true.

The April issue of the Harvard Men's Health Watch gives readers an overview of the evidence (for or against) several popular supplements, including vitamin D, selenium, St. John's wort, and multivitamins. Harvey Simon, M.D., editor of the Harvard Men's Health Watch cautions readers, "Consumers should always keep an eye out for new study reports. Recommendations will change as scientific studies trickle in. Unfortunately, in most cases, the studies have failed to confirm our hopes, though there are exceptions."

Despite their popularity, there is no evidence that multivitamins enhance health or prevent illness. In fact, both the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and a National Institutes of Health State-of-the-Science Conference concluded that multivitamins do not offer protection against heart disease or cancer. In contrast, research suggests that fish oil supplements may be beneficial for people with heart disease.

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