Harvard Heart Letter

Daily multivitamins do not prevent heart disease

Taking a multivitamin every day does not prevent heart disease. That's the conclusion of the Physicians' Health Study II (PHS II), the second phase of a long-running Harvard study that evaluated the effects of multivitamins and supplements of vitamin E, vitamin C, and beta carotene on the prevention of cardiovascular disease, cancer, eye disease, and thinking and memory problems.

After following the participants—all males over age 50—for an average of 11.2 years, the researchers found no statistically significant differences in rates of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, need for an bypass surgery or angioplasty, death from cardiovascular causes, or death from any cause between the men who took a daily multi-vitamin and those who took a placebo. As explained in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the men studied in PHS II were generally very healthy, ate well, and exercised. They may have obtained all the nutrients they needed from their diet.

The researchers emphasized that substituting multivitamins for a healthy lifestyle will likely not prevent cardiovascular disease. However, those who took the multivitamin had an 8% lower risk of cancer, and since there is little risk from taking a multivitamin, many physicians recommend it.

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