MONDAY, Nov. 5, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Millions of American men take them, but a new study finds multivitamins will do nothing to help stave off heart disease, heart attack or stroke.
The study tracked the cardiovascular outcomes of almost 15,000 older male physicians for more than a decade and found no benefit from multivitamin use across a wide range of cardiovascular outcomes.
"I think that people take for granted the idea that, 'You take a supplement, it must be good for you somehow,'" said study lead author Howard Sesso, of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, in Boston. "In fact, unless you do trials like this, that's really the only definitive way to provide evidence-based medicine to make the right decisions for patients."
Sesso and colleagues presented their findings Sunday at the American Heart Association's annual meeting in Los Angeles. The study is also being published online Nov. 5 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and will appear in the journal's Nov. 7 print edition.
The new findings are based on an analysis of data from the Physicians Health Study II, which has tracked the ongoing health of a pool of 14,641 male doctors since 1997. All of the men were at least 50 years of age when they enrolled in the study.
Participants were randomly assigned to take either a daily multivitamin or an inactive placebo. The multivitamin used was Centrum Silver. The study was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and BASF Corp. Multivitamins were supplied by Pfizer, which makes Centrum Silver.
Over an average follow-up of 11.2 years, Sesso's team found no difference between multivitamin users and nonusers in the risk for major cardiovascular events including cardiovascular death, nonfatal heart attack or nonfatal stroke. Speaking at an AHA news briefing on Sunday, Sesso said that it didn't matter if the man had complicating factors such as advanced age, smoking, daily aspirin use, high cholesterol, diabetes or heart disease -- "there was a similar lack of effect."
Sesso did point out that although there may be no good reason to spend money on a multivitamin to ease your heart risk, an analysis using the same Physicians' Health Study data (published two weeks ago in JAMA) did find a modest effect -- about an 8 percent reduction -- in preventing cancer.
Still, another expert said he would not recommend multivitamins.
"The danger of taking multivitamins is that it will lead you to think that you don't need to do the other lifestyle things that are important," Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said at the news briefing.
"I think that for many patients, they take a multivitamin or other supplements -- and it's a multibillion dollar industry -- as a means to improve their health as a quick fix," he said. "That can actually be dangerous and have negative effects, because they are not going to be doing the things related to their diet and physical activity or smoking."
"For many people, they take vitamin supplements as a crutch, and you want to avoid that scenario," Sesso said. "Multivitamins and vitamin supplements represent a quick fix if you will, and we know that there are some benefits that can be seen from multivitamins, like cancer, but for cardiovascular disease we did not see the benefit."
There's more on nutrition and the heart at the American Heart Association.