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Healthy diet trumps multivitamins for memory and heart health, say researchers

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Our nation spends millions annually on vitamin products claiming to do everything from reverse memory less to reduce the risk of heart disease. But now researchers have discovered the truth behind all those claims: Multivitamins offer no more protection than placebos in protecting aging brains against memory loss or aging hearts against disease, reported NBC News on Dec. 16.

"Evidence is sufficient to advise against routine supplementation," said the report in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. And moreover, added the editor of that journal, those vitamins don't attack the root of the problem: Our nation's almost universally unhealthy diet.

Although even some junk foods include vitamins, the primary nutrition problem in the U.S. stems from too many calories rather than lack of vitamins, stated journal deputy editor Dr. Cynthia Mulrow.

As for all those ads promising to improve your memory and save you from heart attack by swallowing pills? Don't waste your money, added another Annals of Internal Medicine researcher in a Dec. 17 interview with CNN.

"The (vitamin and supplement) industry is based on anecdote, people saying 'I take this, and it makes me feel better,' said Dr. Edgar Miller, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

"It's perpetuated. But when you put it to the test, there's no evidence of benefit in the long term," he added firmly.

However, Gladys Block, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at University of California Berkeley, contends that vitamins can sometimes provide a foundation for our unhealthy diets.

"Two-thirds of us are overweight, a quarter over 50 have two or more chronic conditions, so there's a substantial population that one would hesitate to call healthy," she pointed out.

Therefore, she concludes, "multivitamins are a backstop against our poor diet."

And not surprisingly, Cara Welch, senior vice president of the Natural Products Association, agreed. That organization represents companies who have the most to lose from the results of the study: The vitamin and supplement industry takes in nearly $12 billion annually, according to the researchers, with multivitamins its most popular product.

However, for those seeking reputable advice on how to avoid disease and live a long, healthy life, the experts do agree on one guideline: "Focusing on diet and exercise remain key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle," according to Dr. Miller.

To which Professor Block added: "Eat fruits and vegetables."

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