Are vitamins harmful to women?

October 11, 2011 1:39:31 PM PDT
Every year Americans spend almost $27 billion on supplements which makes the findings of a new study even tougher to swallow, that for older women, some vitamins may actually be harmful.

Researchers looked at almost 40,000 women, ages 55 to 69 over the course of 19 years. It found that older women who took multivitamins, B6, folic acid, magnesium, zinc or copper were at a slight increased risk of death.

2.4 percent higher for those who took a multivitamin for example, and 3.9 percent higher for those who took iron.

"Many people thought well it might help, but it probably won't hurt... This raises the question that it might hurt and I think that is a whole different level of understanding that we need to comprehend. In other words people are taking something to improve their health but it might harm their health," said Dr. Donald Hensrud, with the Mayo Clinic.

The new study did find that calcium may have a protective effect. For those who took calcium, the risk of dying went down by 3.8 percent. The leading trade association that represents the makers of dietary supplements fired back at the study calling it a "hunt for harm." They issued statement saying "It is important to keep in mind that this is an associative. not a cause and effect-study. It certainly does not warrant sweeping, overstated concerns for elderly women."

But keep in mind that unlike medications, dietary supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. That means the companies who make vitamins don't have to prove that they're safe or that they work.

"People like to pop a pill in place of having a good lifestyle and eating right getting enough sleep and exercises really is the foundation of good health not popping pills," adds Dr. Holly Thacker with the Cleveland Clinic.

The bottom line is this is only one study but it raises questions.

If you take multiple vitamins and supplements every day you should think twice about the benefits of each one.

But if you take one multivitamin for example, this study is not necessarily a reason to stop.

Also, if you're pregnant or if you're doctor told you to take a specific vitamin, do not stop taking it.