Debating the Pros and Cons of Vitamin Supplements

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To take vitamin supplements or not has been a longstanding issue of debate.

Some recent studies have indicated there might be health risks associated with the use of supplements. One published in October 2011 showed a 17 percent increase in the risk of developing prostate cancer among men who take vitamin E. Another one found that women who took multivitamins or iron had a higher death rate than those who didn’t take anything.

Dr. David Agus, professor of medicine and engineering at University of Southern California and author of the book The End of Illness, pointed to those studies and said there was a lack of proof that people need vitamins or supplements, and some evidence to suggest taking them might cause problems.

“Unless there’s a manifestation [that lack of vitamins is harmful], I don’t want people taking pills. I want them to eat right,” Agus said on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show on Monday. “Saying someone has a low vitamin D level… I want data that that matters.”

Jeffrey Blumberg, professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, disagreed, describing the diet of most Americans as “terrible.”

While vitamin supplements won’t prevent heart diseases or cancer, Blumberg said, taking them is a way to meet dietary requirements, which can be “invaluable.”

“A multivitamin is a prudent choice to make,” he said. “We need to be eating better than we do.”