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The science of supplements is flawed, but taking a daily multivitamin is still worth a try—from the April 2014 Harvard Men's Health Watch

Half of American men take a daily multivitamin in hopes of protecting themselves from heart disease, cancer, and other problems caused by missing nutrients in their diets. Even though the best studies to date have failed to support this widespread health practice, some Harvard experts think it's still worth a try, according to the April 2014 Harvard Men's Health Watch.

"There are potential benefits and there are no known risks at this time," says Dr. Howard Sesso, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. "It is worth considering a multivitamin as part of a healthy lifestyle."

Despite all the research on vitamins and health, there are only a handful of rigorous scientific studies on the benefits of multivitamins. The Physicians' Health Study II, for which Dr. Sesso is an investigator, is the best one completed so far. It tested a commonly taken multivitamin containing the daily requirements of 31 vitamins and minerals essential for good health.

The results have been mixed, with modest reductions in the occurrence of cancer and cataracts, but no protective effect against cardiovascular disease or declining mental function. While some skeptics point out that we still don't know if taking multivitamins for many years carries unknown risks, Dr. Sesso urges a wait-and-see approach.

"Multivitamin supplementation is low risk and low cost, and it helps to fill potential gaps in the diet that people might have," he says. "There are compelling reasons to consider taking a multivitamin for cancer and eye disease that should be discussed with your physician."

Read the full-length article: "Do multivitamins make you healthier?"

Also in this issue of the Harvard Men's Health Watch

  • Anticlotting therapy for atrial fibrillation: Should you stay with the devil you know?
  • On call: Does skin cancer come back?
  • On call: Do I have an allergy?
  • Do multivitamins make you healthier?
  • Better shoes help you walk away from a common cause of heel pain
  • Insomnia or jittery nerves? Use tranquilizers with caution
  • When is it time to stop being checked for prostate cancer?
  • In the journals: Brain training gives you a lasting boost
  • In the journals: Blood-type fad diet theory fails a test
  • In the journals: Risks of hidden high blood pressure

More Harvard Health News »

About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.