A month after Boston researchers reported that multivitamins could cut cancer risk, new results released Monday from the same study bring disappointing news: Multivitamins do not offer any benefits for preventing heart disease.
The study, conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, involved nearly 15,000 male physicians over age 50 who were randomly assigned to take a Centrum Silver multivitamin or a placebo for an average of 11 years. The researchers found that multivitamins offered no protection against heart attacks, strokes, or deaths from heart disease.
“The way we view this study is that there’s no obvious reason to take a daily multivitamin solely for the prevention of cardiovascular disease,” said study leader Howard Sesso, an associate epidemiologist in the Brigham’s Division of Preventive Medicine who presented the research at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting in Los Angeles. “But it’s perhaps narrow-minded to think that we shouldn’t take multivitamins at all considering our findings with cancer prevention.”
That result found that men who took the daily multivitamin had a modestly lower risk, about 8 percent, of developing cancer, compared with those who took a placebo. The researchers plan to announce additional results from the same study within the next few weeks on whether multivitamins protect against eye diseases and age-related memory loss.
Megadoses of individual nutrients such as vitamin E and beta carotene have previously been shown to offer no protection against heart disease, and the latest finding underscores the importance of looking elsewhere to reduce the most common cause of American deaths.
“Many people with heart disease risk factors . . . lead sedentary lifestyles, eat processed or fast foods, continue to smoke, and stop taking life-saving prescribed medications, but purchase and regularly use vitamins and other dietary supplements, in the hope that this approach will prevent a future myocardial infarction or stroke,” Dr. Eva Lonn, a cardiologist at McMaster University in Ontario, wrote in an editorial that accompanied the study, which were both published online by the Journal of the American Medical Association. “This distraction from effective cardiovascular disease prevention is the main hazard of using vitamins and other unproven supplements.”
While Lonn wrote that heart disease is “largely preventable” via a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, regular exercise, and smoking avoidance, another finding presented at the heart association meeting and published in the same journal indicates that about 1 in 3 Americans with no risk factors will have heart disease at some point. Major heart disease risk factors include high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, or diabetes.
Northwestern University researchers culled through five research studies involving more than 100,000 participants and found that more than 40 percent of men and more than 30 percent of women with no heart disease risk factors had a heart attack, stroke, or clogged arteries that required a stent or bypass surgery by age 85. That is far lower than the 60-percent lifetime heart disease risk faced by a typical American who has one or two major risk factors.
What’s more, those in the lowest-risk category developed heart problems, on average, 14 years later.
“I think the finding not only illustrates that heart disease can be an inevitable part of aging,” said Sesso,“but that making a lifetime commitment to eating right and exercising can delay the onset of this disease,” the next best thing if prevention is not possible.