Are Popular Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Really Beneficial?

Should you stop taking multivitamins and minerals because a new study suggests most common vitamin and mineral supplements  may have no consistent benefit for the prevention of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke or premature death? (Make sure you see my personal thoughts at the end of this report)

The most commonly consumed vitamin and mineral supplements provide no consistent health benefit or harm, suggests a new study led by researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto.

Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the systematic review of existing data and single randomized control trials published in English from January 2012 to October 2017 found that multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium and vitamin C – the most common supplements – showed no advantage or added risk in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke or premature death. Generally, vitamin and mineral supplements are taken to add to nutrients that are found in food.

“We were surprised to find so few positive effects of the most common supplements that people consume,” said Dr. David Jenkins*, the study’s lead author. “Our review found that if you want to use multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium or vitamin C, it does no harm – but there is no apparent advantage either.”

The study found folic acid alone and B-vitamins with folic acid may reduce cardiovascular disease and stroke. Meanwhile, niacin and antioxidants showed a very small effect that might signify an increased risk of death from any cause.

“These findings suggest that people should be conscious of the supplements they’re taking and ensure they’re applicable to the specific vitamin or mineral deficiencies they have been advised of by their healthcare provider,” Dr. Jenkins said.

His team reviewed supplement data that included A, B1, B2, B3 (niacin), B6, B9 (folic acid), C, D and E; and β-carotene; calcium; iron; zinc; magnesium; and selenium. The term ‘multivitamin’ in this review was used to describe supplements that include most vitamins and minerals, rather than a select few.

“In the absence of significant positive data – apart from folic acid’s potential reduction in the risk of stroke and heart disease – it’s most beneficial to rely on a healthy diet to get your fill of vitamins and minerals,” Dr. Jenkins said. “So far, no research on supplements has shown us anything better than healthy servings of less processed plant foods including vegetables, fruits and nuts.”


In response to a new review, “Supplemental Vitamins and Minerals for CVD Prevention and Treatment,” published online earlier this week in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), the leading trade association for the dietary supplement and functional food industry, issued the following statement:

Statement by Duffy MacKay, N.D., senior vice president, scientific & regulatory affairs, CRN: 

“The most significant finding in this review is the beneficial role vitamin B-complex and folic acid can play in reducing the risk of stroke. Stroke is one of the leading killers in America, and thus we should feel nothing but enthusiasm for this new review which presents significant promise for advancements in the risk reduction of cardiovascular disease.

We remind consumers that cardiovascular disease is multifactorial and cannot be prevented by dietary supplements in isolation. For consumers with, or at risk of, cardiovascular disease, we recommend prevention and treatment of the disease to be done in consultation with a doctor. However, we in the scientific and medical communities should not disregard new science that suggests the use of specific dietary supplements in combination with healthy diet and exercise could ultimately lead to improved quality of life for consumers as well as healthcare cost savings to individuals and the country.

Given these positive findings, we are disappointed by the negative attention being given toward the most popular supplements because the research found they do not prevent cardiovascular disease. The multivitamin as well as vitamins D and C are equally beneficial for overall health and wellness. They are not intended for cardiovascular disease prevention, so we shouldn’t expect the data to demonstrate otherwise.

There is a real life need for dietary supplements, and the argument that Americans get all the nutrients they need from food alone is inaccurate. As indicated in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, vitamins D and C, along with many other nutrients you’ll find in a multivitamin, are identified as shortfall nutrients. To dismiss their benefit is to do a great disservice to the American populations who are not getting enough of these critical nutrients from their diets.”

Dr. Elaine’s Thoughts

I usually don’t recommend multi-vitamins, because of varying amounts of nutrients among different brands.  But I do find taking them better than not taking them at all.  I agree that there are a multitude of causes for the development of chronic diseases, and as a proponent of a holistic approach to health, I would never recommend multivitamins alone and think I’m doing my best to help my patients improve their health and prevent disease development.

Most multivitamin supplements don’t contain levels that are high enough to prevent chronic disease.  We know the RDAs (minimum daily requirements) are the levels that help to prevent nutrient related deficiency diseases.

What I do know is that supplementation does make a difference when it’s done properly, but again, it’s not the entire solution.

I am not surprised that the benefits of vitamin D supplementation weren’t found in this study.  Because most multivitamins provide 400IU per day, and numerous studies show much higher amounts are needed (5,000 IU-10,000 IU per day).  We treat vitamin D deficient patients with 50,000 IUs per week of pharmaceutical Vitamin D.