Supplements Are Only Helpful in Specific Cases, Study Suggests

Nutritional supplement use has grown over the past decade or so and now more than half of adults in the United States use them to fill in the gaps of their diet.  Unfortunately, new research suggests that most vitamins and minerals do not improve heart health. As a matter of fact, a new review of several hundred nutritional supplement studies says that these products might even increase the risk of stroke. 

While he was not involved in the study, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health associate professor of international health Dr. Bruce Y. Lee argues, “This research further shows that despite extensive sales and use of different dietary supplements, there is a lack of scientific evidence supporting the use of many supplements.” 

According to this research, omega-3 fatty acids—the reason you might take fish oil supplements—do not reduce the risk of heart attacks and coronary heart disease. At the same time, the study found that folic acid does appear to reduce stroke risk while the combination of calcium and vitamin D actually increased risk of stroke.

That in mind, the review concludes that just about everything else “had no significant effect on mortality or cardiovascular disease outcomes.” This includes everything from iron to niacin and the myriad A, B, and C vitamins. 

As it was a comprehensive review of existing studies, the research involved nearly one million patients in all.  As such, the review was able to also observe evidence that a low-salt diet could reduce mortality risk. However, this reduction was only associated with those who have normal blood pressure levels; low-salt diets only appeared to reduce risk for cardiovascular-related death for those with high blood pressure. 

Although these results are confusing, Lee comments that the takeaway is simply that American consume too much salt.  Overall, salt reduction lowers blood pressure and lower blood pressure almost ensures lower risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart failure.

Indeed, University of Oxford professor of diet and population health, Susan Jebb, explains, “Except to prevent or correct specific deficiencies, there is generally good argument that dietary supplements should not be recommended to the general population.”

These special circumstances might include things like low vitamin D levels or specific health-related circumstances, like pregnancy.

The results of this review have been published in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine.