Most people believe that supplements, combined with eating the right diet and being active regularly, can be very beneficial at preventing serious conditions such as heart disease and cancer. Most of this belief has been dependent on the aggressive marketing of companies that produce the supplements, making exaggerated claims. Many doctors have always questioned the effectiveness and safety of these supplements, and it looks like this question has finally been addressed.
Recently, a government-funded research took place, focusing on how useful it was to take vitamin D and fish oil supplements. More specifically, the study was focused on whether fish oil and vitamin D supplements contributed greatly to preventing heart disease and cancer. Two papers were published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and unfortunately, the results weren’t very promising.
Vitamin D supplements Study
In this study, the goal was to find out whether vitamin D was able to lower the risk of cancer or cardiovascular disease (https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1809944?query=featured_home). The research was conducted on 25,871 participants nationwide, using a randomized, placebo-controlled trial that also included a two by two factorial design. In the study, each participant was given a dose of 2000 IU of vitamin D3 daily or placebo with 1 g per day of omega-3. The participants involved were men of 50 years of age and older as well as woman who were 55 years and older. The results from the study concluded that vitamin D supplements did not reduce incidences of invasive cancer or cardiovascular events when measured against those who took placebos.
Fish Oil Study
In this study (https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1812792?query=featured_home), researchers performed a randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled trial on 8179 participants. The participants were patients that had established cardiovascular disease or suffered with diabetes as well as other risk factors. All participants had already been taking some form of statin, and their fasting triglyceride levels were in the range of 135 to 499 mg/dL.
A total of 4 g of icosapent ethyl (Vascepa is the trade name), which is a drug that contains a stable and pure form of EPA, was assigned to each participant daily or a placebo was given.
It was concluded that patients who had an elevated triglyceride level and had taken the 4 g of icosapent ethyl daily dosage showed significantly lower risks of ischemic events or cardiovascular death, despite using statins compared to those who were on placebos. However, the study that tested lower levels of fish oil among the general population, coming in the form of the supplements currently on the market, showed no evidence of a lower risk of heart problems or cancer. One of the main reasons is because these omega-3 supplements only contain small doses of EPA that is mixed with other types of omega-3’s.
One thing that researchers noted was that even though the supplements didn’t show any real evidence of being beneficial for these types of conditions, there was no evidence of any harm being caused either. They also noted that while vitamin D might not necessarily be effective at lowering cancer rates or cardiovascular deaths, it was important for bone health.
What most doctors agree on is that regardless of whether people take supplements, it is important that they focus their priorities on what’s really important, which is to not smoke, exercise regularly, and to eat right. For those that need to control high blood pressure, it is important that they continue taking a statin if they are at high risk and that these drugs should always be a priority over supplements or anything else if they have been prescribed by a medical expert.