WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — Daily multivitamins don’t cut the risk of heart attack or stroke, and a new study finds that many take them as a “quick fix” crutch.

The study followed more than 14,500 men for over a decade, and looked at whether taking the common multivitamin – Pfizer Inc.’s Centrum Silver – can prevent disease in comparison to taking a placebo or a fake vitamin. In addition to cancer and heart disease, researchers also looked at whether multivitamin use affected cognitive decline and eye disease.

More than half of Americans take a vitamin or supplement on a regular basis, and about a third take a daily multivitamin.

“Many people take vitamins as a crutch,” Howard Sesso, one of the authors of the study and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told the Wall Street Journal. “There’s no substitute for a heart-healthy diet and exercise.”

However, there was a small reduction in cancer risk, according to results from the study released in October.

“One thing worth noting is these physicians were quite healthy,” Dr. Sesso added. “A lot of them exercised and most had pretty good diets”—which make it harder to measure the added benefit of a multivitamin.

Many doctors recommend multivitamins, and the supplements are strongly encouraged for specific groups, such as pregnant women.

The Physicians Health Study enrolled 14,641 male U.S. physicians, ages 50 and older when the study began. More than 700 had heart disease at the start. Half received a multivitamin. The other half took placebos that looked like the real vitamins. Vitamins and placebo pills were dispensed in prefilled monthly packages so compliance could be measured.

Researchers followed the participants for more than 11 years, measuring cardiovascular events including heart attack and stroke, and death from a cardiovascular-related cause. There were 1,732 major cardiovascular events and 2,757 deaths during the study.

The researchers said event rates were mostly similar between treatment groups, suggesting multivitamins didn’t influence cardiovascular disease. There were slightly fewer heart attack-related deaths in the vitamin group, which might be attributed to chance, Dr. Sesso told the Wall Street Journal.

Pfizer provided the vitamins used, and the results on cognitive decline and eye health have yet to be released.


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