Vitamin supplements: a well balanced diet a better option?

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- About half of adults take at least one dietary supplement.  However on Monday a government task force said there's not enough evidence to say that vitamin or mineral supplements help prevent heart disease or cancer.

Americans spend 11.8 billion dollars a year on vitamin and mineral supplements.  Multivitamins are the biggest sellers.  Why do we take them?

"I don't know why because I eat a really good diet," said Linda Callahan.

Craig McElvain said he also doesn't know either.

"I don't feel any different, but I bet you I'm much healthier," he said.

Maybe that is correct, but then again maybe not. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force reviewed studies of vitamin and mineral supplements to see if they can reduce your chances of heart disease and cancer, America's top two killers.  The panel said there is not enough evidence to recommend for or against them.

Dr. Jeanne Drisko, the director of integrative medicine at the University of Kansas Hospital, said that she doesn’t want people to think supplement use is going to make up for certain lifestyles.

"They're not exercising, they're having poor nutrition, and they’re smoking cigarettes.  No amount of nutrient intake, multivitamin intake is going to stop the risk for heart disease or cancer," said Dr. Drisko.

The government panel advised against taking two supplements in particular for prevention of heart disease and cancer.  The panel said there is clearly no benefit to taking Vitamin E, and that beta carotene can be harmful because it increases the risk of lung cancer in people already at risk.

"Patients should be talking to their physician about exactly what they're taking," said Dr. Drisko.

Arthur Oliver said he relies on his doctor for advice on supplements.

"Whatever the doctor says goes, especially my doctor," said Oliver.

Your doctor may decide to put you on supplements for other reasons such as bone health. A task force member said in the absence of clear evidence about vitamins and minerals for heart disease and cancer prevention, doctors should counsel their patients to eat a healthy, well-balance diet.

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