Multivitamins do nothing to protect men against heart attack, stroke, or cardiovascular-related death. That's the message headlines blared in early November, citing results of a new study of nearly 15,000 male doctors published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
As part of the Physicians' Health Study II, researchers gave half of the men a daily multivitamin and the other half a placebo and then tracked their health for more than a decade. As it turned out, the multivitamin takers were just as likely to have heart troubles as those who did not pop a pill every day.
But don't dump your bottle just yet. According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), the men in this study were in better shape to begin with than the general population. They had healthy diets, low body mass indexes, low smoking rates, and engaged in regular exercise – plus, they took a baby aspirin each day, which could explain why a multivitamin didn't offer additional cardiovascular support. "The fact that the participants were already engaging in these healthy behaviors would have made it extra difficult for a multivitamin to meaningfully contribute toward reducing any additional risk of heart disease," says Duffy MacKay, CRN's vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs.
But for the rest of us, who may not always eat right or don't bust a sweat nearly as often as we should, taking a multi is an effective step toward being as healthy as possible, MacKay says. And here's another bonus: Results from the same group of guys released a few weeks prior showed that those on a multivitamin regimen had an 8 percent lower risk of all types of cancer.
"Men should take a multivitamin daily to fill in any nutrition gaps in their diets and to promote overall wellness," MacKay says. "Any added benefits beyond that, such as the reduction of cancer risk found in this study, should be considered icing on the cake. Don't think of your multivitamin as a panacea, but rather as one of your healthy habits. Eat right, take your multi, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep."