PhotoResearchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine recently discovered that many supplements aren’t delivering the results that their makers promise. The team says this is true for products that claim to offer protection from heart disease and help consumers live longer.

“The panacea or magic bullet that people keep searching for in dietary supplements isn’t there,” said researcher Dr. Erin D. Michos. “People should focus on getting their nutrients from a heart-healthy diet, because the data increasingly shows that the majority of healthy adults don’t need to take supplements.” 

Uncovering the evidence

To see how dietary supplements were affecting the body, the researchers analyzed nearly 300 previous studies that included over 992,000 participants and evaluated the effects of eight different diets and 16 vitamins. 

The researchers pored over data from diets that included low salt, Mediterranean, reduced fat, and high in omega-3 fatty acids, among others. The vitamins that were examined included antioxidants, multivitamins, calcium,  iron, and others. 

After analyzing all of the different diets and vitamins, the researchers then ranked each trial based on the health impact it made. While some of the substances did lead to lower risk of certain health events, the researchers say that the results fell well short of complete effectiveness.

For example, when analyzing over 40 studies that involved over 134,000 participants taking omega-3 fatty acids to reduce their risk of heart attack or heart disease, the researchers determined that the supplements were doing little to ward off a negative health event, as those taking the supplements reduced their risk by less than 10 percent. 

Similarly, the researchers determined that incorporating folic acid into a diet did little to benefit participants’ health, as doing so reduced the risk of a stroke by just 20 percent.

Despite some benefits, researchers urge caution

The study did find that two diets were moderately effective in boosting participants’ health: low-salt diets in people with high blood pressure and low-salt diets in people with healthy blood pressure. For those with high blood pressure, following a low-salt diet reduced the risk of heart disease by over 30 percent, whereas those with healthy blood pressure reduced their risk of death by 10 percent. 

Overall, the researchers urge consumers to use caution when using vitamins or supplements to boost their diet or health status, as they don't always yield the desired results. 

“Our analysis carries a simple message that although there may be some evidence that a few interventions have an impact on death and cardiovascular health, the vast majority of multivitamins, minerals, and different types of diets had no measurable effect on survival or cardiovascular disease reduction,” said researcher Dr. Safi U. Khan. 


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