Heart and circulatory system

Do Supplements Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease and Cancer?


By Pan-American Life

Key Points

  • A recent study concluded that there is not enough evidence to support the use of supplements as a way to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.
  • Experts warned that their recommendations are not aimed at children, pregnant women, or women seeking to become pregnant, nor people with chronic diseases or nutritional deficiencies.
  • Supplements usually do not pose a health risk, although there are cases in which they increase the risk of developing different conditions. For this reason, they should be consumed under medical advice and supervision.

In recent years, it has become popular to take mineral, vitamin, or multivitamin supplements in the hopes of preventing various diseases.

New research analyzing published scientific studies states that there is not enough evidence to support the use of supplements as a way to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.

In a new study, published in the medical journal JAMA Network, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) concluded that available evidence is "insufficient" to determine the balance of benefits and harms of taking supplements for the prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

This working group consisted of a voluntary and independent panel of experts in medicine and disease prevention whose objective is to improve people's health by making evidence-based recommendations on clinical preventive services.
Despite their findings, the authors warned that their recommendations are not aimed at children, pregnant women or women seeking to become pregnant, people with chronic diseases, or people who are hospitalized or have a known nutritional deficiency.

In an editorial, also published in JAMA Network, a group of Northwestern Medicine experts endorsed the findings of the USPSTF, stating that "supplements are a waste of money for those who believe they can help prevent cardiovascular disease or cancer."
Globally, cardiovascular diseases are responsible for the majority of deaths from noncommunicable diseases (17.9 million people per year) followed by different types of cancer (9 million). In the U.S. alone, these two conditions are responsible for about half of all deaths.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, cardiovascular disease accounts for 34% of total mortality rates, while cancer was responsible for 1.3 million deaths and 3.7 million new cases in 2018, according to a report on chronic diseases published by Pan-American Life Insurance Group.

For this reason, it is common for people to look for all kinds of over-the-counter alternatives to fight them. However, the authors of the editorial explained that, beyond the money lost, focusing on supplements to prevent disease can represent a potentially harmful misdirection.

Dietary supplements generally do not have to comply with the same regulations as medications, nor do supplement companies have to prove their effectiveness or quality.
Nor can they be marketed as treatments or as products that diagnose, prevent, or cure diseases, although it is common for supplements to be accompanied by promising messages offering immediate benefits.

In some cases, taking dietary supplements without professional supervision can pose a serious danger to the consumer's health. There is evidence that warns of potential risks linked to taking supplements in this way.

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For example, a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine found, after analyzing data from more than 27,000 American adults, that excessive intake of calcium from supplements (at least 1000 mg per day) was associated with an increased risk of cancer death. They also found links between consuming vitamin D from supplements, in people who have no signs of deficiency, and an increased risk of death.

Another article, published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, found that supplementation with folic acid and vitamin B12 was associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

Even the authors of the new article published in JAMA Network warned that excessive doses of vitamin supplements can cause several known adverse effects. Vitamin A can cause lower bone mineral density and toxicity, and vitamin D can cause increased risk of kidney stones.

These negative effects are not only due to the fact that it is impossible to know for sure what the supplements contain. The following has also been proven:

Presence of active ingredients in supplements with strong biological effects on the body.
Excessive consumption of supplements, for better and faster results.

Inadequate combinations of supplements.
Combination of supplements and medications.
Replacing medications with supplements.
Experts agree that the best option to reduce the risk of disease and keep the body healthy is still to maintain a healthy diet, sleep well, exercise frequently, and perform regular medical checks.

Sources used: Annals of Internal Medicine, United States National Library of Medicine, Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, Mayo Clinic, JAMA Network.