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How do Americans waste $28 billion a year? On vitamins, doctors say

Looking for ways to save money in 2014? Here's some advice from doctors: Stop buying vitamins.

Time after time, studies have shown that vitamin and mineral supplements don’t prevent disease or death. And yet consumers keep buying them, lament the authors of an editorial published in Tuesday’s edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

A 2011 report from the National Center for Health Statistics estimated that 53% of American adults used some type of supplement in the years 2003 to 2006, with multivitamin/multimineral formulations being the most popular. Those pills weren’t cheap – U.S. consumers spent $28 billion on them in 2010 alone, the editorial says.

RELATED: Foods that affect your risk of cancer

Three new studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine add yet more data to the mountain of evidence that most people get all the vitamins and minerals they need from food:

A meta-analysis conducted for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force found “no consistent evidence that the included supplements affected CVD (cardiovascular disease), cancer, or all-cause mortality in healthy individuals without known nutritional deficiencies. Other systematic reviews have arrived at this same conclusion.” The analysis was based on the results of 27 studies involving more than 450,000 people.

A study involving nearly 6,000 male doctors age 65 and older found that cognitive function and verbal memory were no better in the men who took a daily multivitamin than in men who took a placebo. The doctors were tracked for 12 years.

Finally, a clinical trial testing whether a multivitamin could help prevent serious heart problems – including death – in patients who already had one heart attack concluded that the supplements didn’t help.

These results were right in line with other studies that have found “no clear benefit” from taking multivitamins, antioxidants, folic acid and B vitamins, the editorial says.

And those are the good outcomes. Trials of beta-carotene, vitamin E and high doses of vitamin A linked those supplements with an increased risk of premature death.

As far as the five editorial writers are concerned, the jury is still out on only one supplement – vitamin D. Studies to assess whether extra vitamin D could prevent falls in older people have had mixed results. As researchers continue to sort this out, consumers should be aware that there’s no “solid evidence” that this vitamin will be helpful to most people.

“The message is simple: Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided,” the five physicians write.

And just in case that message is not simple enough, the headline spells things out even more clearly – “Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.” 

If you like to keep up to date on the latest medical studies, you like the things I write about. Follow me on Twitter and "like" Los Angeles Times Science & Health on Facebook.

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