CancerHeart DiseaseMenopauseStressVitamins

Multivitamins, cancer, heart disease, and death

Millions of postmenopausal women use multivitamins.

Does it matter?

First, the details.

  • 161,808 participants in the Women’s Health Initiative were followed for about 16 years.
  • Cancers of the breast, colon/rectum, endometrium, kidney, bladder, stomach, ovary, and lung; as well as cases of heart attack, stroke, and blood clots; and total mortality data were collected.

And, the results.

  • 42% of the participants used multivitamins.
  • There was no significant association between taking a multivitamin and the likelihood of developing cancer or cardiovascular disease, or of dying.

The bottom line?
“These results suggest that multivitamin use does not confer meaningful benefit or harm in relation to cancer or cardiovascular disease risk in postmenopausal women,” the authors concluded.

That’s not to say you needn’t pay attention to your diet. However, these results question the value of taking “stress” supplements that contain folic acid.

It’s likely to take a while before the value of supplements will be sorted out, and those most likely to benefit will be identified. Another study published this year illustrates the complexity of this research and the results. Researchers from China and the US reported that vitamin A and zinc supplementation were associated with increased risk of death due to any reason and death following a stroke. Yet, vitamin C and molybdenum supplementation appeared to decrease the risk of death after a stroke.

3/27/09 21:42 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.