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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.
Will Vitamin Supplements Prevent Heart Problems?
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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