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Which Vitamins Prevent Chronic Disease?

Classic vitamin deficiency disorders, such as scurvy, are now uncommon in developed nations, yet inadequate absorption of some vitamins can lead to chronic disease.

The authors of this study reviewed studies on nine vitamins key to preventive care in adults (vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and K; folate; and provitamin A carotenoids) through a literature search of studies published from 1966 to 2002. The following associations were noted for deficiencies of particular vitamins:

  • Osteoporosis: Vitamin D, along with calcium, has been shown to reduce bone loss and fracture risk in the elderly.
  • Heart Disease: Folic acid, B6, and B12 are necessary for homocysteine metabolism and may decrease risk for heart disease; results from studies on vitamin E preventing heart disease are less conclusive. Beta-carotene may raise risk in smokers.
  • Cancer: Lycopene, not technically a vitamin, may be superior to vitamin E in helping prevent prostate cancer. Folic acid has been shown to decrease risk for colon cancer in both sexes and breast cancer in women who drink alcohol. Beta-carotene may increase risk for lung cancer in smokers.
  • Birth Defects: Folic acid reduces risk for spinal birth defects in infants whose mothers take these supplements. Excessive vitamin A during pregnancy may cause adverse outcomes.

The elderly, vegans, alcoholics, and those with malabsorption of nutrients may be at risk for inadequate intake of these vitamins. The best natural sources listed for these vitamins include: leafy greens, whole grains, and fortified grain products for folate; fish, poultry, and legumes for vitamin B6; fish, eggs, and milk for vitamin B12; citrus fruits for vitamin C; and margarine, nuts, and salad oils for vitamin E.

Note: This paper is a useful, compact reference tool for nutritional advisement. A quick consultation with this article could save you time otherwise spent looking in a number of other sources.

Fairfield KM, Fletcher RH. Vitamins for chronic disease prevention in adults: Scientific review. Journal of the American Medical Association 2002:287(23), pp. 3116-3126.


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