Report: Older Americans love popping vitamins. But do they work?

Apr 04, 2018

Since 1999, the National Institutes of Health has spent a whopping $2.4 billion hunting for evidence that taking vitamins improves health. What do they have to show for it? Not much, according to a recent New York Times report.

In fact, researchers haven’t been able to produce much evidence that vitamins boost health more than a healthy diet packed with vitamin-rich foods.

And yet, 68 percent of Americans over the age of 65 report that they take a vitamin, and there are about 90,000 dietary supplements on the market. What’s more, some studies have shown that taking higher doses of certain vitamins than what’s found in a healthy diet can actually be detrimental to a person’s health. For example, studies have linked “mega doses” of beta carotene, found in carrots, to higher instances of lung cancer. 

Erroneous assumptions about the health of certain populations have also contributed to false conclusions about some vitamins. The report points out that scientists once believed that people who eat lots of fish, for example, had fewer instances of heart problems because they consumed higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids — and then fish oil pills became all the rage. Closer scrutiny, however, has shown that the correlation between heart health and fish is likely more related to what those populations don’t eat — such as high levels of red meat.

Many doctors, however, continue to recommend that patients take supplements to err on the side of caution when it comes to getting a helpful dose of vitamins.

For more, read the full New York Times report.