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The science of supplements is flawed, but taking a daily multivitamin is still worth a try

April 01, 2014

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?"


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