Many people routinely take nutritional supplements such as vitamin D and fish oil in the hopes of staving off major killers like cancer and heart disease.
Now, long-awaited government-funded research has produced some of the clearest evidence yet about the usefulness of taking the supplements. And the results — published in two papers — are mostly disappointing.
“Both trials were negative,” says Dr. Lawrence Fine, chief of the clinical application and prevention branch of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the studies.
“Overall, they showed that neither fish oil nor vitamin D actually lowered the incidence of heart disease or cancer,” Fine says.
The results were presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in Chicago and released online Saturday by The New England Journal of Medicine. One paper focused on vitamin D supplementation, and the other focused on fish oil.
While the overall results were disappointing, there appeared to be a beneficial effect when it came to one aspect of heart disease and fish oil: heart attacks.
A secondary analysis showed taking fish oil lowered the risk of heart attack by about 28 percent, which is a “statistically significant” finding, says Dr. JoAnn Manson, who is chief of the division of preventive medicine at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. She led the research.
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