(AP) – A multivitamin a day might help some people keep colds and other bugs at bay, according to a year-long study.

Before you run to the drug store, take heed: the lead researcher stresses that healthy people in the study who got adequate nutrition saw no recognizable benefit from multivitamin and mineral supplements. The greatest benefit seemed to go to diabetics.

Researchers in North Carolina gave the supplements to 63 people. Another 67 got a placebo that looked and smelled like the vitamin but contained only calcium, magnesium and riboflavin.

All 130 people kept daily diaries, tracking colds and other infections and sick days. After taking the pills every day for a year, the group that got the real multivitamins reported fewer infections and fewer missed days at work due to infections.

The big benefit, though, went to nearly one-third of the study group, all of whom had type 2 diabetes.

For that group, 93 per cent of the placebo-takers reported an infection during the study year, compared to only 17 per cent of the multivitamin-takers. Also, 89 per cent of the diabetics taking a placebo reported missing work because of an infection; none of the diabetics taking a multivitamin reported that.

However, many of the diabetics in the group also had other factors that may have skewed the results, said lead author, Dr. Thomas A. Barringer of Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C. The study was published in the recent edition of Annals of Internal Medicine.

The diabetics “were also more obese, less educated, more indigent” and had poorer Nutrition, Barringer said. That raises the question of whether the vitamins were of greater benefit because of diabetes or because of a combination of factors, he said.

Taken as a whole, 73 per cent of the placebo group reported getting an infection during the year compared to 43 per cent of the vitamin group. But the dramatic numbers in the diabetic group wholly account for those figures, researchers said.

In an accompanying editorial, doctors from the Harvard School of Public Health also noted that the vitamin group was better nourished and educated than the placebo group – meaning they could have been healthier to begin with.

The U.S. Centres for Disease Control estimates that about 40 per cent of American adults take multivitamins.

“My take-home message would be that supplements are safe and inexpensive, and that it’s reasonable to recommend them” to poorer populations and those with poor control of their diabetes. As for the rest of the population, Barringer said, “there’s not much evidence there is any benefit for them.”

He also acknowledged the study was limited because of the small size of the sample group and the fact that the people studied were 45 or older.

Dr. Eugene Barrett, a professor of medicine at the University of Virginia and president-elect of the American Diabetes Associatio, said the research was intriguing but that a bigger study is needed.

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