It seems like simple, obvious advice: Eat your vegetables, get some exercise, and — of course — take your vitamins.
Decades of research has failed to find any substantial evidence that vitamins and supplements do any significant good. In fact, recent studies skew in the opposite direction, having found that certain vitamins may be bad for you. Several have been linked withan increase in certain cancers, for example, while others have been tied to a rise in the risk of kidney stones.
And a large new study out Wednesday suggests that despite this growing knowledge, Americans' pill-popping habits have stayed basically the same over the last decade.
So here are the vitamins and supplements you should take — and the ones you should avoid:
1. Multivitamins: Skip them — you get everything you need with a balanced diet.
For decades, it was assumed that multivitamins were critical to overall health. Vitamin C to "boost your immune system," Vitamin A to protect your vision, Vitamin B to keep you energized.
Not only do you already get these ingredients from the food you eat, but studies suggest that consuming them in excess can actually cause harm. A large 2011 study of close to 39,000 older women over 25 years found that women who took them in the long term actually had a higher overall risk of death than those who did not.
2. Vitamin D: Take it — It helps keep your bones strong and it's hard to get from food.
Vitamin D isn't present in most of the foods we eat, but it's a critical ingredient that keeps our bones strong by helping us absorb calcium. Getting sunlight helps our bodies produce it as well, but it can be tough to get enough in the winter. Severalrecent study reviews have found that people who took Vitamin D supplements daily lived longer, on average, than those who didn't.
3. Antioxidants: Skip them — an excess of these has been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers, and you can eat berries instead.
Vitamins A, C, and E are antioxidants found in plentiful form in many fruits — especially berries — and veggies, and they've been touted for their alleged ability to protect against cancer.
But studies suggest that when taken in excess, antioxidants can actually be harmful. A large, long-term study of male smokers found that those who regularly took Vitamin A were more likely to get lung cancer than those who didn't. And a 2007 review of trials of several different types of antioxidant supplements put it this way: "Treatment with beta carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E may increase mortality."
4. Vitamin C: Skip it — it probably won't help you get over your cold, and you can eat citrus fruits instead.
The Vitamin C hype — which started with a suggestion from chemist Linus Pauling made in the 1970s and has peaked with Airborne and Emergen-C — is just that: hype. Studyafter study has shown that Vitamin C does little to nothing to prevent the common cold. Plus, megadoses of 2,000 milligrams or more can raise your risk of painful kidney stones.
So get your Vitamin C from your food instead. Strawberries are packed with the nutrient.