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Study Suggests Vitamin Pills Have No Benefits

The New Straits Times, July 28, 2002

By Dzulkifli Abdul Razak

As the slimming pill continues to make news, claiming the lives of four Japanese women recently (NST, July 21), another “drug” story is making headlines too.

Based on a recent groundbreaking study, the use of vitamins has been called to question. This follows a major report from Oxford University which suggests that vitamin pills have no health benefits. They are said to give no protection against diseases, more so for serious illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and stroke.

The study involving more than 20,500 volunteers, aged between 40 and 80 who were at high risk of coronary heart disease, looked at the effects of cholesterol-lowering statins as well as that of vitamins.

Volunteers were randomly selected to receive daily either 40mg of simvastatin as cholesterol-lowering therapy, vitamin supplements of matching dummy capsules. Study treatment and follow-up continued for an average of five years in 69 UK hospitals.

The British study known as Heart Protection Study, headed by Professor Rory Collins, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Oxford, was the first to look at long-term effects of “three most popular” types of vitamin pills.

The result of the study, published in the medical journal Lancet, revealed that the statins worked within a year and had major effects within five years.

The study also found patients on simvastatin had a reduced risk of dying from either a heart attack, stroke or any related blood vessel disorders (by 17 per cent), or any cause (by 12 per cent). In addition, the drug reduced the risk of stroke by 27 per cent compared with placebo. The risk of suffering heart disease was also reduced.

This was not the case for vitamins. There was no apparent benefit associated with the supplements, although other studies have suggested that the vitamin might have a protective effect against some of the diseases.

Collins was quated as saying: “Over five years we saw absolutely no effect. There have been claims that vitamins might protect you against cataracts, there was no effect; that vitamins might prevent fractures by preventing osteoporosis, there was no effect.”

Dr. Jane Armitage from Oxford, a  co-author of the study, noted: “This study found that vitamins are a waste of money. People would be far better off spending the money on fresh fruit and vegetables.”

Overall, it is claimed that the study adds weight to a growing consensus among scientists that the beneficial effects of fruit and vegetables cannot easily be replicated in supplement form.

A statement from the British Nutrition Foundation agrees. “It is better to obtain the nutrients in whole foods such as fruit and vegetables.”

It concedes the point that vitamins are not an instant way of preventing heart disease, though “they do have a role”.

Vitamins generally tend to be popular. The BBC reported that last years 45 per cent of households took supplements with £350m (RM2.1 billion) spent on vitamins in the UK. Vitamin C is the top selling vitamin.

Collins was further quoted: “I continue to be concerned by the large number of patients who rush out and buy vitamins, frequently at the same economic expense that prescribed medicine would cost, thinking that somehow the vitamins are ‘natural’ and therefore might be better.

“Study after study now seems to be showing do not carry a clinical benefit.

“Continued recommendation of vitamins is difficult to justify.”

Although there were no signs of any emerging beneficial effects, patients will be studied for several more years to see if after an average of five years of vitamin supplementation, any delayed effects, cancers, or other major outcomes do eventually emerge.

Meanwhile a judicious use of vitamins would be the advice. When there is a balanced diet with ample fresh fruit and vegetables, and a healthy lifestyle, there is no need for vitamin pills supplements.

Recommended site: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/2096672.stm


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