Volume 4, Issue 44
November 3, 2011

Are your vitamins killing you?

I’m betting that pretty much all of my Real Cures readers take some vitamin supplements. At least I hope so. I take supplements myself. So imagine my wonder when a doctor friend of mine who hosts a radio show in New York called me last week asking me if I had heard the latest news. What he said may shock you: My vitamins are killing me.

In fact, a new study says my risk for dying sooner was 2.4% greater because of the vitamins I take. Had I been wrong all these years?

The study was in the AMA journal The Archives of Internal Medicine dated October 11, 2011. The researchers enrolled 38,772 women in their 60s from the Iowa Women's Health Study. They asked the women to fill out three surveys. In each survey, the women reported what supplements they took, what foods they ate, and what their health was like. The first survey was in 1986. The second was nine years later in 1997. And the last one was seven years later in 2004. Here’s what they found.

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When the study period ended in 2008, 15,594 women representing about 40% of the initial participants had died. And here’s the kicker. According to the questionnaires, the women who used multivitamins had a 2.4% increased risk of dying earlier compared to those who did not take a multivitamin. As a result, the authors concluded, “We see little justification for the general and widespread use of dietary supplements.”

I guess this study is so scientifically tight that the authors feel they can dismiss the previous studies published in this same journal in which the journal’s editors concluded just the opposite. They made the case that all Americans should take a multivitamin. That means we have to ask: Exactly how accurate was this mind- blowing study?

Fortunately for all of us health nuts, it turns out it wasn’t very accurate at all.

Perhaps the most obvious problem with the study is simply how they conducted it. How is it reasonable to expect that a self-reported questionnaire used only three times over the course of a 20-year study period would be anywhere close to accurate? Can anyone really remember exactly what they ate and what supplements they took over the past seven to nine years? I know I can’t. So the very data that the authors based their conclusions on was subject to significant error.

The other glaring issue that they didn’t account for in the study was the health of the individual women. As people go through the earlier stages of disease, for example cancer, they often feel tired and run down. As a result, it’s common for them to start taking a multivitamin thinking this might be helpful.

On the other hand people who are well and feel good, are less likely to think they might need a multi. Thus, for this reason alone, in a group of 60-year-old women, it is realistic to suspect that the multivitamin takers would contain a higher percentage of people in the early stages of disease than those who were not taking a multi. Of course, that would mean the multi users would end up dying sooner. So the authors took that possibility into consideration, right? Sorry. They didn’t examine this connection in their study.

There is another aspect of the study that may have created an increased risk for those women taking multivitamins. The researchers discovered that the women who took multivitamins were much less likely to take supplemental hormones. Since untreated hormone deficiencies are known to be a disease risk in postmenopausal women, it may very well be that this is why the multivitamin users did not live as long. But there are still more problems with the study.

The researchers didn’t conduct any analysis on what kind of multivitamins the women were taking. They didn’t consider the dose, balance, or quality. And, as you probably already know, these are incredibly important issues. That’s the same as conducting a study on a medication and not reporting on what the dose was or what was actually in the medication. Ridiculous!

And what about other risk factors, such as smoking, pesticide use, organic food use, processed food use, exercise, stress, and other unimportant factors? These can have a marked impact on the chance of dying earlier, but were not considered at all. But here’s the most important reason not to take this study seriously.

The difference between the death rates of the multivitamin users and non users was a measly 2.4%. This number is not even statistically valid. It could very well have happened as a result of chance.

So no, I am not going to stop taking my multivitamin as a result of the extremely limited information given in this study. I have been testing the nutrient levels of my patients for years. I can tell you firsthand that there are very few people, including me, whose genetics are so bombproof that they can get every single nutrient they need to be at optimal health simply from their diet. Rare is the person who won’t benefit from a multi. This was a great study for headlines, but turns out to be a poor analysis of the health effects of multivitamins. So don’t give up your vitamins just because of this study. It would do more harm than good.

Finding your Real Cures,

Frank Shallenberger, MD

REF: Mursu J, Robien K, Harnack LJ, et al. “Dietary Supplements and Mortality Rate in Older Women,” The Iowa Women's Health Study, Arch Intern Med. vol. 171, no. 18, October 10, 2011: 1625-33.

Copyright 2011 Soundview Publishing, LLC.

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