The People's Perspective on Medicine

Will Vitamin Supplements Prevent Heart Problems?

An analysis of more than 150 studies found that most supplements don't prevent heart problems. The exception? Folic acid alone or in B-complex vitamin pills.
Two hands holding a variety of pills supplements

Does it make sense to take vitamin pills? A new systematic review looked at 179 recent studies of commonly used supplements to see whether any of these pills helped ward off heart problems (Jenkins et al, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, June 2018). Frequently, people begin taking supplements because they have heard or read that the pills will help them stay healthy.

Do Supplements Prevent Heart Problems?

The scientists found that none of the four most popular supplements had any impact on cardiovascular disease. (These are multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium and vitamin C.)

Folic Acid May Help:

The data revealed that folic acid and B vitamin complex supplements containing folic acid were associated with a slightly reduced risk of stroke. People taking folic acid were also slightly less likely to have heart attacks.

Don’t Mix Niacin with a Statin:

On the other hand, a different B vitamin, niacin, is often taken at high doses of up to 3 grams a day to lower cholesterol. When niacin is taken together with a cholesterol-lowering statin, the risk of premature death from any cause increases by about 10 percent. The authors suggest that we should avoid taking niacin together with a statin to lower cholesterol.

Antioxidants Are Not Beneficial:

The scientists also evaluated the effects of high-dose antioxidants (vitamins A, C, E, β-carotene, selenium and zinc). While these had no impact on heart problems, they were associated with a slightly greater likelihood of premature death. The calculation is that for every 250 people taking such a combination, one person would die early.

The Bottom Line on Supplements for Heart Problems:

The investigators didn’t find that supplements harm people, but they also don’t appear to help much.

Instead, the scientists strongly urge people

“to focus on healthy dietary patterns, with an increased proportion of plant foods in which many of these required vitamins and minerals can be found.”

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Disappointing to see the synthetic man-made Folic Acid being used interchangeably with Folate, a natural B-vitamin found in green leafy vegetables. There is significant concern in the research about Folic Acid being being a contributing factor in prostate cancer and breast cancer. Folic acid is used because it is cheap and stable in vitamin supplements. However if one searches, supplements can be found that do not use folic acid but a form of folate.

This is very confusing. Your site is full of good stories and studies about supplements even some that lower blood pressure that I use now. So, after this article I can dispose of all my supplements and my BP won’t go back up, right?

Or is this about vitamins; is there a differenc?

Too often we have the “take this to prevent that” mentality. I look at the way our food is processed and what it’s lacking. This is where the supplements (not vitamins) come in. They fill the gap of what is processed out of our food. Sometimes there are things we can’t get from our food at all. D3 is an excellent example. The mentality should be: let’s “supplement” our diet to be more healthy! (This should also apply to how the doctors prescribe medications to us).

The article ignores the fact that many supplements are taken for something other than heart-related issues. I take vitamin D3 because I am genetically inclined to be very, very low in it, and have osteopenia as a result. Since I’ve been taking 10,000 iu’s of D3 for several years (per a doctor’s order), my blood level of D is now above mid-range, and my bone density has actually IMPROVED (not bad for a 68 year old!). I take many other vitamins and supplements for variety of reasons, and my doctor objects to none of them. I do not have a high risk for heart problems.

“The authors suggest that we should avoid taking niacin together with a statin to lower cholesterol.” To me, this is crazy advice. Why not reduce or eliminate the more dangerous one, the statin instead of avoiding niacin.

I found that Vit C, L-Lysine and L-Proline combination helpful for my heart disease. Dr. Linus Pauling was on to something that clears the arteries it seems. For me it becoming routine that every 3 years I would be in the Cath lab for another stent but since starting this combination I have felt better and have not visited the lab for sometime. I will keep you apprised as time goes on but I wanted to share in case your readers are looking for another alternative or additional course of action to aid in constant struggle that some of us have with Cardiovascular issues.
Kind Regards.

Report states they “don’t appear to help much”, however, bottom line is they still help. I use supplements and doctors tell me I’m “very healthy” while expressing curiosity about my diet as well as use of supplements. I’m 66, am compromised physically due to spinal stenosis/post lumbar/cervical surgery, but have not had a debilitating cold in 4+ years. I attribute this to my use of supplements and would encourage anyone to explore using them.

If one in 250 people might die sooner if they take vitamins, there is no mention of what medications these 250 are also taking. Same old story.

I very much disagree with your statement. You need to read Norman Cousins artcles or books on the benefits of Vitamin C and Lysine together. This combination is so good for cleaning out Plaque from your arteries. Animals can make their own Vitamin C but Humans cannot and have to take Vitamin C either orally or by injection. Vitamin D along with Vitamin K will keep your bones in good condition. Do not take K if you are on a blood thinner.

I would like to know WHO paid for these studies and what brands of supplements were used. Our fruits and vegetables are grown in soils that are depleted of most minerals so no matter how much you eat you will not be putting enough into your body. As we age our bodies lose some effectiveness on absorbing vitamins and minerals so supplementation is important. Each of us has to follow our instinct as to what we need and should take/eat. No matter what is said today, in a few years someone will refute that info.

I am curious about the study that concluded: “Antioxidants Are Not Beneficial.” The population of supplement users may include more people with chronic illnesses than a random sampling. What do these 1 in 250 persons die early from? Was it a pre-existing condition? We are often told that supplements amount solely to expensive urine. But the information on the bio-availability of the supplement, it’s purity, and the content of the fillers is not shown in the research study.

Are these studies funded by drug companies? I know that education from Integrative (Functional) Medicine physicians does tend to encourage nutritional supplements to healthy plant-based meals based on an assumption that agricultural soils are depleted of necessary nutrients compared to a century ago and that our physical eco-systems have more to contend with in terms of food and environmental toxins in this day and age.

I suspect that the Fucntional Medicine practitioners would like more research but that it is hard to fund research on supplements or natural remedies because their is little monetary incentive for research sponsors to fund the projects that tend to be lifestyle focused.

This study looked at “high-dose”but the conclusion says antioxidants are not beneficial, but the actual conclusion is that high-dose anti-oxidant combinations “were associated with a slightly greater likelihood of premature death.” The discussion would need to show that an association differs from a causal effect and that there are other factors contributing to the sample’s health outcomes.

I wonder who did the investigating? Who does these studies? If you are in the medical profession, your paycheck depends on people being sick, not healthier. Just like with drug testing, unless the study is totally independent of any influence by Big Pharma, it will likely be tainted.

Several points should be noted about your article and about the study illustration at

First, calcium does increase heart risk — probably in rough proportion to the amount taken over 600 units per day as a supplement (excluding dietary calcium from food). Calcium makes up arterial plaque, so that makes sense.

Second, beta carotene has long been known as something that is not good for smokers (and perhaps even former smokers) but that usually relates to cancer risk, which will show up as lowering longevity. Don’t know how a megastudy would distinguish that risk.

Third, Co-Q 10 has long been known as being beneficial for heart conditions.

Just random notations …

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