The Science of Supplements is Flawed, But Taking a Daily Multivitamin is Still Worth a Try—from the April 2014 Harvard Men's Health Watch

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Taking a multivitamin does not reduce the chance of heart disease or mental decline, but it does reduce the risk of being diagnosed with cancer or developing cataracts.

Half of American men take a daily multivitamin in hopes of protecting themselves from heart disease, cancer, and other problems caused by missing nutrients in their diets. Even though the best studies to date have failed to support this widespread health practice, some Harvard experts think it's still worth a try, according to the April 2014 Harvard Men's Health Watch.

"There are potential benefits and there are no known risks at this time," says Dr. Howard Sesso, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. "It is worth considering a multivitamin as part of a healthy lifestyle."

Despite all the research on vitamins and health, there are only a handful of rigorous scientific studies on the benefits of multivitamins. The Physicians' Health Study II, for which Dr. Sesso is an investigator, is the best one completed so far. It tested a commonly taken multivitamin containing the daily requirements of 31 vitamins and minerals essential for good health.

The results have been mixed, with modest reductions in the occurrence of cancer and cataracts, but no protective effect against cardiovascular disease or declining mental function. While some skeptics point out that we still don't know if taking multivitamins for many years carries unknown risks, Dr. Sesso urges a wait-and-see approach.

"Multivitamin supplementation is low risk and low cost, and it helps to fill potential gaps in the diet that people might have," he says. "There are compelling reasons to consider taking a multivitamin for cancer and eye disease that should be discussed with your physician."

Read the full-length article: "Do multivitamins make you healthier?"

Also in the April 2014 issue of the Harvard Men's Health Watch:

  •     Pros and cons of clot-preventing drugs for men with abnormal heart rhythms
  •     Best steps to beat foot pain
  •     At what age should men stop being tested for prostate cancer?
  •     Could that itchy, burning, runny nose be an allergy?

The Harvard Men's Health Watch is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $20 per year. Subscribe at or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).


Media: Contact Kristen Rapoza at hhpmedia(at)hms(dot)harvard(dot)edufor a complimentary copy of the newsletter, or to receive our press releases directly.

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Kristen Rapoza
Harvard Health Publications
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