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Sharp Health News

Can vitamin supplements prevent disease?

May 19, 2016

Can vitamin supplements prevent disease?

The vitamin and supplement industry is a multibillion-dollar business, enticing you with heavy marketing and claims of preventing illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. However, extensive scientific research conducted over many years provides no evidence to support these claims.

"Research findings suggest that vitamin E and beta-carotene supplements are not effective in preventing cancer or heart disease," says Dr. David Hall, a double board-certified internal medicine and pediatrics doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group.

In fact, some supplements may be harmful for some people. Studies show that beta-carotene may increase lung cancer risk in smokers and people who have been exposed to asbestos. Another study shows that vitamin E may increase the risk of prostate cancer.

"Researchers recommend that men age 55 or older should limit natural vitamin E to no more than 22 international units (IU) or 33 IU of synthetic vitamin E each day," says Dr. Hall.

Healthier ways to reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease

Trying to ward off disease with a simple pill isn't the best solution. Instead, Dr. Hall recommends the following to help you reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise for 30 minutes, five or more times per week
  • Eat a healthy diet that includes plenty of vegetables and fresh fruit, plus lean meats, fish and whole grains
  • Avoid using tobacco

In some cases, supplements may be helpful for certain people. "Women who might be pregnant should take folic acid supplements, and vegetarians may need extra vitamin B-12," says Dr. Hall. "There are also those who may need a vitamin D supplement, especially after age 65."

Dr. Hall stresses that you should always talk to your doctor about any supplements you are taking or are thinking about taking.

At Sharp Rees-Stealy, we want to empower you to make well-informed preventive care choices. That's why we've made it our priority to support our doctors in helping you make smart and effective decisions by participating in Choosing Wisely®.

Choosing Wisely, an initiative of the ABIM Foundation, educates patients and doctors on selecting the most effective treatment available and avoiding unproductive, costly procedures. Sharp Rees-Stealy is the only medical group in Southern California to participate in this national campaign.

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