Are Vitamin Supplements Causing More Harm Than Good?
Contrary to popular belief, two new studies reveal that taking extra doses of supplements and vitamins can actually do more harm than good, highlighting concerns about the long-term use of supplements and vitamins by people who don't have severe nutritional deficiencies.
According to a study of 35,000 men published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, those who took vitamin E supplements significantly increased their risk of prostate cancer, even after they stopped taking them. Meanwhile, a separate study of 38,000 women published in the The Archives of Internal Medicine found that older women who took a daily vitamin supplement, even just a multivitamin, had an increased risk of dying of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Although unrelated, the two studies are just the latest in a series of research results debunking the pervasive notion that vitamins and supplements are helpful in warding off disease and prolonging life.
“Based on existing evidence, we see little justification for the general and widespread use of dietary supplements,” the authors wrote.
“There really is not any compelling evidence that taking these dietary supplements above and beyond a normal dietary intake is helpful in any way, and this is evidence that it could be harmful,” Dr. Eric Klein, physician and national study coordinator for the prostate cancer and vitamin E study said.
Of course, everyone needs vitamins, which are essential nutrients the body is unable to produce on its own. But in light of recent studies showing that high doses of vitamins, at least in pill form, may actually cause more harm than good, the question is whether consumers should bother taking multivitamins or other supplements at all.
Most nutrition experts are mixed on the answer. While some, like professor of nutrition science and policy, Jeffrey Blumberg at Tufts University, advise taking a multivitamin formulated for people falling short of the recommended daily amount of several nutrients like calcium, potassium, vitamin D and vitamin E, others, like Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University, recommend food, suggesting supplements only to people with diagnosed nutrient deficiencies.
But both agree, it all depends on who you are and what you eat. For example, if you don't eat much fish, have high triglycerides, or are at an increased risk for heart disease, a fish oil supplement of about one gram daily might be a good option. Same goes for an additional supplement of calcium for people who don't drink a lot of milk or eat enough dairy.
But Nestle warns consumers to proceed with caution, citing the unlikelihood of significant nutrient deficiencies in people who get enough calories and eat reasonably well. "Given our overabundant, over-fortified food supply, you would have to eat a highly restricted diet to develop vitamin deficiency symptoms."
As Blumberg explains, "If you are eating a perfectly healthful diet, then you don't need supplements. But for the 97% who aren't there yet, for goodness' sake, take a multivitamin."
Finally, a health recommendation we can all swallow!