Recently you have seen articles in newspapers and reports on television news that daily vitamin and mineral supplementation in elderly women may cause an increased risk of dying of cardiovascular disease and cancer. These articles were based on a study released in the well-respected Archives of Internal Medicine. The authors say that the study highlights concerns about long-term use of supplements and vitamins in people who do not have documented severe nutritional defficiencies. An editorial accompanying the article notes that the findings “add to the growing evidence demonstrating that certain supplements can be harmful”. The lead author further concludes that the main message is that researchers are finding very little benefit from these substances. Also, while other studies have not shown the mortality risk this study shows, these other studies have not seen any positive effect either.
The “take home” message, in my mind, is that, indeed, certain vitamins and minerals may be harmful. But we have known that for a long time….the issues with long-term, high dose use of the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E) for instance. Or potential toxicity from oversupplementation of iron, zinc and copper. But the message is not to stop taking vitamins and minerals. Rather, I see it as another case being made for your being well informed about all chemicals you put into your bodies. Just because these are supplements and do not require a prescription does not mean they are without risk.
It is also probably true that the American diet, in general, does not provide for sufficient quantities of certain vitamins and minerals. You know your diet best. If you eat a well-balanced diet with sufficient fruits, grains, and vegetables then your need for vitamin and mineral supplementation may be less than for someone who skimps on these nutrients. Or maybe you don’t require supplementation at all.
Know what your needs are. Know what you are getting in your diet. Make good decisions about what supplements you need to take and how much of each. If you care enough about your health to want to take supplements, you should care enough to find out what you truly need.