U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Vitamin, mineral, and multivitamin supplements for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2014 Apr 15;160(8):558-64.
Summary of Recommendations and Evidence
The USPSTF concludes that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of multivitamins for the prevention of cardiovascular disease or cancer. (I statement)
The USPSTF concludes that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of single- or paired-nutrient supplements (except β-carotene and vitamin E) for the prevention of cardiovascular disease or cancer. (I statement)
The USPSTF recommends against β-carotene or vitamin E supplements for the prevention of cardiovascular disease or cancer. (D recommendation)
Patient Population Under Consideration
The focus of this recommendation is healthy adults without special nutritional needs. Populations studied were typically aged 50 years or older. This recommendation does not apply to children, women who are pregnant or may become pregnant, or persons who are chronically ill or hospitalized or have a known nutritional deficiency.
Suggestions for Practice Regarding the I Statements
Potential Preventable Burden
Evidence from in vitro and animal research and population-based epidemiologic studies supports the hypothesis that oxidative stress may play a fundamental role in the initiation and progression of cancer and common cardiovascular diseases. If this hypothesis is correct, then some combination of specific supplements, a specific dose, a vulnerable host, and specific timing may be found to be useful.
Important harms have been shown with β-carotene in persons who smoke tobacco or have an occupational exposure to asbestos. There are several known adverse effects caused by excessive doses of vitamins; for example, moderate doses of vitamin A supplements may reduce bone mineral density, but high doses may be hepatotoxic or teratogenic. Otherwise, the vitamins reviewed by the USPSTF had few known risks. Because many of these vitamins are fat-soluble, the lifetime effect of high doses should be taken into consideration.
The USPSTF did not address doses higher than the tolerable upper intake level, as determined by the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board. Vitamins A and D have known harms at doses exceeding the tolerable upper intake levels, and the potential for harm from other supplements at high doses should be carefully considered.
The U.S. Pharmacopeia has developed reference standards to aid in quality control of dietary supplement production; however, the content and concentration of ingredients in commercially available formulations probably vary considerably. This variability in the composition of dietary supplements makes extrapolating results obtained from controlled clinical trials challenging.
Although dietary supplements themselves are not particularly costly, the cumulative effect of this class of agent on spending is substantial. In 2010, $28.1 billion was spent on dietary supplements in the United States.
Surveys conducted by the dietary supplement industry suggest that many physicians and nurses have recommended dietary supplements to their patients for health and wellness.
Additional Approaches to Prevention
Appropriate intake of vitamin and mineral nutrients is essential to overall health. Despite the uncertain benefit of vitamin supplementation, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that nutrients come primarily from foods and provide guidance on how to consume a nutrient-rich diet. Adequate nutrition by eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and seafood has been associated with a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Specific groups of patients with well-defined conditions may benefit from specific nutrients. For example, women who are planning to or may become pregnant should receive a daily supplement containing folic acid to help prevent neural tube defects. The USPSTF also recommends vitamin D supplements for older persons at risk for falling.
The USPSTF has a large portfolio of recommendations for prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer, including recommendations for smoking cessation; screening for lipid disorders, hypertension, diabetes, and cancer; obesity screening and counseling; and aspirin use (available from the USPSTF Web site).
Definitions Grades/Suggestions for Practice [available online]
[Free full-text USPSTF Recommendation Statement PDF | PubMed® abstract | National Guideline Clearinghouse version]
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