Many Los Angeles women take one or more vitamin supplements daily; however, a new study suggests that they consider natural sources instead. According to a study published October 10 in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, several widely-used dietary vitamin and mineral supplements are associated with an increased risk for death in older women. Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland (Kuopio, Finland) based their findings on data from the Iowa Women’s Health Study. Many vitamin supplements did not appear to be associated with a higher risk for death; however, several were, including multivitamins, Vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc, and copper. Lead author Jaakko Mursu, PhD and colleagues wrote, “Supplements are widely used, and further studies regarding their health effects are needed. Also, little is known about the long-term effects of multivitamin use and less commonly used supplements, such as iron and other minerals.”
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The study group was comprised of 38,772 women between 55 and 60 years of age (average: 61.6 years) at the beginning of the study in 1986. Self-reported data on vitamin supplement use were collected in 1986, 1997, and 2004. A total of 15,594 deaths occurred through December 31, 2008, representing about 40% of the initial participants. The use of multivitamins overall was associated with 2.4% increased absolute risk for death. Self-reported use of dietary supplements increased significantly between 1986 and 2004. Furthermore, supplement users had a higher educational level, were more physically active, and were more likely to use estrogen replacement therapy. When compared to nonuse, Vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, and zinc were associated with approximately a 3-6% increased risk for death, and copper was associated with an 18.0% increased risk for total mortality. In contrast, use of calcium was inversely related to risk for death (3.8% risk reduction).
The authors concluded: “In agreement with our hypothesis, most of the supplements studied were not associated with a reduced total mortality rate in older women. In contrast, we found that several commonly used dietary vitamin and mineral supplements, including multivitamins, vitamins B6, and folic acid, as well as minerals iron, magnesium, zinc, and copper, were associated with a higher risk of total mortality.” In a related editorial, Danish researchers noted, “We cannot recommend the use of vitamin and mineral supplements as a preventive measure, at least not in a well-nourished population. Those supplements do not replace or add to the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables and may cause unwanted health consequences.”
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