Is taking vitamins a waste of time and money?

While a new study suggests a daily multivitamin may slightly reduce cancer risk in men, I urge people to take these findings with a grain of salt.  Unless you are taking vitamins to correct a deficiency due to chronic illness, malnutrition or a gastrointestinal problem, taking vitamins in hopes of preventing disease or seeking longevity is a myth.

The current study, conducted by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, found men aged 50 and over who took a daily multivitamin were 8 percent less likely to develop cancer over an 11-year period, compared to men who took a placebo.  However, the risk of specific cancers – such as prostate, lung and colon cancer – did not change whether the men took a multivitamin or not.  Furthermore, the men who took a daily vitamin were just as likely to die from cancer.
The study follows past research which has yielded mixed results.  Last year, a study of more than 35,000 U.S. men found daily vitamin E supplements may actually increase the risk of prostate cancer by 17 percent, and a Swedish study in 2010 found women who took a daily multivitamin had a 19 percent increased risk of breast cancer.
I do not believe the findings in this new study are statistically significant enough to change any guidelines on vitamin use.  Clinically, doctors still cannot advise patients to take vitamins to reduce the risk of cancer.
Other methods of reducing cancer risk are typically much more effective and worthwhile – such as quitting smoking, cutting back on alcohol consumption and other healthy lifestyle factors.  These are the kinds of changes that are associated with a 20 percent efficacy in reducing cancer risk.
And by the way, they save you money, as compared to becoming a pill addict spending hundreds of dollars a year to keep up with your daily vitamin intake.  I grant you, these vitamins are unlikely to harm you, but I strongly feel people should redirect their energies on something more productive.