Practice Alert

Vitamins and CVD, cancer prevention: USPSTF says evidence isn’t there

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Taking vitamins and minerals in the hope of preventing cancer or cardiovascular disease may be ineffective—and with a particular supplement, it could actually be harmful.



The leading causes of death in the United States are cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer. CVD causes about 800,00 deaths per year (30% of all deaths), and cancer is responsible for about 600,000 deaths annually (21%).1 Many adults—more than 50%—report regular use of dietary supplements, including multivitamins and minerals, to improve their overall health, believing that these supplements’ anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties help prevent CVD and cancer.2 However, this belief is not supported by evidence, according to the US Preventive Services Task Force.

What did the Task Force find? After a recent reassessment of the topic of vitamin and mineral supplementation, the Task Force reaffirmed its position from 2014: There is insufficient evidence to recommend the use of vitamins and minerals to prevent CVD and cancer.3

For most of the vitamins and minerals included in the systematic review—vitamins A, C, D, E, and K; B vitamins; calcium; iron; zinc; and selenium—the Task Force could not find sufficient evidence to make a recommendation. It is important to note that if any of these are taken at the recommended levels, there is no evidence of serious harm from using them.

However, there is good evidence to recommend against the use of beta carotene and vitamin E.3 For beta carotene, the harms outweigh the benefits: Its use is associated with an increase in the risk of CVD death, as well as an increased incidence of lung cancer in smokers and those with occupational exposure to asbestos. The evidence on vitamin E indicates that it simply does not provide any cancer or CVD mortality benefit.

How to advise patients. Both the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the American Heart Association state that most nutritional needs can be met through the consumption of nutritional foods and beverages; supplements do not add any benefit for those who consume a healthy diet.4 The updated USPSTF recommendations support this approach for community-dwelling, nonpregnant adults.

For those adults who want to supplement their diets—or who need to do so because of an inability to achieve an adequate diet—urge them to follow the recommendations found in DHHS’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.4

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