Can Multivitamins Help Prevent Heart Disease and Stroke?

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Recently, we reported on a large study that looked at the association between multivitamins and cancer prevention. In that investigation, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, more than 14,000 healthy male doctors aged 50 and older were randomly selected to take either a daily multivitamin or placebo. After 11 years of follow-up, the participants who took the multivitamin were found to have a very modest decrease in the incidence of cancer. How modest? Researchers found that taking a daily multivitamin over a period of 10 years seemed to prevent 1 case of cancer for every 100 men. There was no decrease in cancer mortality. Clearly, a daily multivitamin is not the answer to preventing cancer, but the small benefit is notable.

Multivitamins and Cardiovascular Disease

These same investigators then set out to determine whether, based on the data from this study, a daily multivitamin might play a role in preventing cardiovascular disease. They found no significant difference between the two groups in the incidence of major cardiovascular events. Closer analysis further confirmed that multivitamins conferred no benefit in preventing: heart attacks; heart failure; the need for cardiac surgery (such as stenting of the coronary arteries or bypass grafting); or stroke. Taking a daily multivitamin also didn’t make a difference in overall mortality from cardiovascular disease.

Previous studies examining this issue resulted in inconsistent conclusions. This, however, is the first well-designed study that used a clear-cut, randomized, double-blind approach (neither the participants nor the investigators knew who was taking a multivitamin or placebo until the end of the study). The data look strong and convincing.

How Lifestyle Interventions Fit In

So let’s ask the same question we did in our cancer report: Should you take a daily multivitamin? If you opt to take a daily multivitamin, there’s no evidence of any harm in doing so. However, there doesn’t seem to be any benefit when it comes to preventing heart disease and stroke. So although the study offers no reason not to take a daily multivitamin, it should serve as a reminder to continue to pursue the lifestyle interventions that have been proven most effective. The old standbys–exercising regularly, not smoking, keeping your weight under control, and eating a heart-healthy diet–are among the best things you can do. And, of course, if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, work with your primary health care provider to keep those under control as well.

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