Many nutritionists insist that the way to live a long, healthy life is not to pop lots of medications (pill, capsule, tablet, etc.), but to eat a tasteful healthy balanced diet. On the other hand, millions of postmenopausal women who use multivitamins believe that the vitamin supplements prevent chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease (CVD). This has been recently challenged and some scientific studies have shown that multivitamins are ineffective to reduce the risks of cancer and CVD in postmenopausal women. In this article some facts about multivitamin preparations, the usage precautions for multivitamins, the latest findings on the effect of multivitamins in reducing the risks of cancer and CVD in postmenopausal women will be briefly studied and discussed.
MULTIVITAMIN PREPARATIONS AND THE PRECAUTIONS: A multivitamin is a preparation intended to supplement a human diet with vitamins, dietary minerals and other nutrients. Such preparations are available in the form of tablets, capsules, pastilles, powders, liquids and injecting formulations. Other than injecting formulations, which are only available and administered under medical supervision, multivitamins are recognized by the United Nations' highest authority on food standards (Codex Alimentation Commission) as a sort of food.
While multivitamins can be a valuable tool to correct dietary imbalances, it is worth exercising basic caution before taking them, especially if any medical conditions exist. In particular, pregnant women should generally consult their doctors before taking any multivitamins: for example, either an excess or deficiency of vitamin A can cause birth defects. Some analyses have suggested that long-term use of beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E supplements may shorten life rather than extend it, with the additional risk being particularly large in smokers.
LATEST FINDINGS: A group of researchers (Marian L. Neuhouser et al) decided to examine associations between multivitamin use and the risk of cancer, CVD, and mortality in postmenopausal women. The results of their research were recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine on 9 February 2009:
The research project was carried out on more than 160,000 postmenopausal women, and the researchers found no cancer or heart disease reduction among those taking a multivitamin. Overall, those taking the vitamins were probably the least likely to need them. Vitamin users tended to weigh less, eat more vegetables, get more exercise, and to refrain from smoking or excessive drinking. After taking these factors into account, researchers found no differences in the rates of heart disease or cancer between those taking the vitamins and those who did not. The risk of premature death was also the same for both groups.
CONCLUSION: It may be concluded that the best way to stay healthy is to get vitamins and minerals through fresh fruits and vegetables, and not to count on a pill to ward off disease. It should be also noted that the body may process vitamins differently when they enter in food than in medication forms (pill, capsule, etc.), probably because foods interact with one another in a way that may facilitate the nutrient absorption. Many nutritionists believe that the scientists working in labs may not beat what the nature normally does.
Manouchehr Saadat Noury, PhD
Neuhouser, M. L. et al (2009): Multivitamin Use and Risk of Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease in the Women's Health Initiative Cohorts, Arch Intern Med.:169(3):294-304.
NewEnglandCableNews Website (2009): Online News on Multi-vitamins not that effective.
Saadat Noury, M. (1982): Principles of Human Nutrition in Health and Disease (in Persian), ed., Tehran, Iran.
Saadat Noury, M. (2008): Various Articles on Vitamins and Nutrition.
Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2009): Online Notes on Multivitamins.
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