Government panel says more research needed on benefits of vitamins


Tuesday, July 1st 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ An influential government advisory panel said there is not enough evidence to either recommend or reject the use of vitamin supplements as a way to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, in Tuesday's Annals of Internal Medicine, said it looked at several dozen studies on vitamins, and found that the results often were ``inadequate or conflicting.''

``The bottom line is that there isn't enough good research out there for us to make a decision,'' said Janet D. Allan, vice chair of the task force.

The connection between health and antioxidants, which include vitamins A, C and E, got lots of attention after some studies suggested that antioxidants blocked the heart-damaging effects of oxygen on arteries and the cell damage that might spur some kinds of cancer.

But some researchers believe that antioxidants might have a benefit only when they are in food, or that people who eat vitamin-rich food are healthier simply because they take better care of themselves.

The group did recommend against the use of beta-carotene supplements for preventing cancer or cardiovascular disease. The task force said it found evidence that heavy smokers who took beta-carotene pills had higher rates of cancer and death than people who did not take them, and the benefit to nonsmokers was not proven.

The conclusions do not go as far as a study published earlier this month in the medical journal The Lancet that concluded vitamin E and beta-carotene pills are useless for warding off major heart problems.

Annette Dickinson, president of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade group for makers of dietary supplements, said people should not read the task force report as a reason to stop taking their daily vitamins.

``On balance, it does make sense for people to take a multivitamin,'' she said. ``There are larger set of benefits that aren't just cancer and heart disease,'' including a reduced risk of cataracts and improved resistance to infection.

Allan said that a dozen studies now under way should allow the panel to revisit the topic in several years with better data.

``The American public is spending billions and billions of dollars on vitamins, so it's very important for us to have better knowledge of what's useful and what's not, and for whom,'' she said.