Study: Doctors who take multivitamins realize no greater benefit in preventing heart disease

CHICAGO — A study published Monday online by JAMA may skew the conversation over multivitamin use negatively, despite the fact that study authors maintain the study cannot be generalized across the general population given the study's subjects — namely, practicing physicians. 

In a randomized study that included nearly 15,000 male physicians who were middle-aged or older, daily multivitamin use over the course of more than 10 years of treatment and follow-up did not result in a reduction of major cardiovascular events, heart attack, stroke or death from cardiovascular disease, according to a study appearing in Nov. 7 issue of JAMA

“Although multivitamins are used prevent vitamin and mineral deficiency, there is a perception that multivitamins may prevent cardiovascular disease," noted lead researcher Howard Sesso of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in the report. "Observational studies have shown inconsistent associations between regular multivitamin use and CVD, with no long-term clinical trials of multivitamin use.”

“We’re not surprised by these results, but they don’t discount the many other benefits that multivitamins provide, including filling nutrient gaps, helping prevent neural tube birth defects and serving in combination with other healthy habits as a basic and affordable insurance policy for overall wellness," stated Duffy MacKay, VP scientific and regulatory affairs for the Council for Responsible Nutirition. "Even though two weeks ago, this same study demonstrated a modest but significant reduction in total cancer risk in this same population, no one should expect the multivitamin to wipe out all diseases known to man," he said. 

The population in question would have skewed heart-healthier without regard to multivitamin use, MacKay noted. “This particular population was extremely healthy, with the physicians doing everything right to prevent heart disease. Their diets were healthy, their BMIs were low, they exercised, very few smoked, and the majority were on a daily aspirin regimen," he explained. "The floor in this population may have been too close to the ceiling for a simple multivitamin to have demonstrated additional benefit for preventing strokes and heart attacks," he added. "It’s unfortunate that the accompanying editorial makes negative assumptions about the habits of vitamin users, when the research demonstrates supplement users are taking them in combination with other healthy lifestyle choices."

According to MacKay, other studies show that supplement users are more likely to be leaner and more physically active than supplement non-users — not as a consequence of supplement use, but in conjunction with supplement use. "Our own research shows similar kinds of results, with supplement users being more likely than non-users to try to eat a healthy diet, engage in regular physical activity and see a doctor regularly," MacKay said. "It’s the whole lifestyle package — including consistent, long-term use of vitamins — that helps lead to good health.”