Vitamin supplements can cause more harm than good

October 17, 2011 at 2:05 pm Leave a comment

Two recent “strikes” against the use of vitamin supplements. Rather than enhance health they actually create more risk. Perhaps the lesson is to get your vitamins from a variety of foods? Seems our bodies are far more complex than can be enhanced by simply adding a vitamin or mineral. If you add one you might be taking away from somewhere else, or changing a biochemical balance in a subtle but significant way. There’s no easy answers. Thankfully studies like this show it’s not automatically helpful to take vitamin supplements or vitamin E. (Text below came from the Tufts Nutrition newsletter.)

Supplements Linked to Increased Mortality in Older Women

For older women, vitamin and mineral supplements may not do much good – and might actually increase mortality risk. That’s the startling finding of a new analysis of data on 38,772 women, average age 61.6, in the Iowa Women’s Health Study. As the women got older, from 1986-2004, their use of dietary supplements increased, with the percentage using at least one supplement daily rising from 62.7% to 85.1%. But of all the supplements studied, only extra calcium was positively associated with reduced risk of dying during an average 19-year follow-up. Multivitamins and supplements of vitamin B6, folic acid, magnesium, zinc, copper and especially iron were all associated with greater risk of dying during the follow-up period. Researchers concluded, “Based on existing evidence, we see little justification for the general and widespread use of dietary supplements. We recommend that they be used with strong medically based cause, such as symptomatic nutrient deficiency disease.” – Archives of Internal Medicine

Men Taking Extra Vitamin E at 17% Greater Risk of Prostate Cancer

In another strike against supplement use, a second look at the SELECT study of selenium and vitamin E pills reports a 17% greater risk of prostate cancer associated with taking an extra 400 IU daily of vitamin E. The SELECT trial had hoped to show that the supplements helped prevent prostate cancer among the 35,533 older men who participated. But the initial findings showed no benefit from selenium and a statistically nonsignificant increased risk associated with vitamin E. Since then, an additional 521 prostate cancers have been diagnosed among participants – enough to push the link with vitamin E to statistical significance. The elevated risk, compared to placebo, didn’t appear until the third year of the trial, and was consistent across both low- and high-grade cancers. Noting that 23% of people age 60 or older take supplements containing at least 400 IU of vitamin E (18 times the recommended level for adult men), researchers concluded that their findings “demonstrate the potential for seemingly innocuous yet biologically active substances such as vitamins to cause harm.” – JAMA


Entry filed under: nutrition, science, skepticism.

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