Can vitamins be bad for you?

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Recently, some surprising studies surfaced regarding the use of multi-vitamins that showed a slight increase in mortality among post-menopausal women who used multi-vitamins.  Another recent study showed a higher risk of prostate cancer in men who used vitamin E. How can this be? Here are a few pointers I have given my patients who have questioned these studies.

#1 All vitamins are not alike.

It is very important to remember how unregulated the vitamin industry is. You must choose companies that are seeking additional certifications, like those provided by NSF International (an accredited, third-party certification body that tests and certifies products to verify they meet public health and safety standards) to certify companies as following the “Good Manufacturing Processes” proposed by the FDA. If not, you cannot be confident that the label accurately describes the actual content of the vitamin you are taking. In addition, there are synthetic additives and vitamin derivatives that can be harmful, especially if you are taking them daily.

#2 Just because it is a “natural” supplement doesn’t mean you can take unlimited amounts and numerous supplements.

I tend to see this in my patients who come into my office and are surprised that I always drastically reduce the amount of supplements they take. People tend to read something on the Internet regarding a certain supplement and automatically add it to their arsenal of daily pills, thinking that it must be good for them as well. It is not uncommon for patients to have an entire grocery bag full of supplements that they take. The body likes FOOD for nutrient sources, and unless you are under the care of a professional who understands what the supplements are doing to you body, you should not use them.

#3 You must be able to understand research studies.

Not all studies are equally valuable when it comes to making conclusions about the results. The way that a study is conducted, as well as who is funding the study, can give you valuable insight as to the amount of information you can take from the findings. For instance, a correlational study (a study that has no “control group” and only looks at a few variables from a population) is not as helpful as a study that controls for all the variables that can come up. To be sure that the rate of mortality was only due to the vitamin usage, you would have to make sure that everyone took the same vitamins, in the same amounts, and that no one had other chronic illnesses that might have caused them to look towards vitamins as a way to correct it. Of course, there are numerous other variables that can skew the results of correlational studies. They do, however, help to bring questions to the surface that other, more rigorous studies can be developed from.

Can vitamins  be bad for you?
The take home message is that you should strive to eat a healthy diet, avoid processed foods, reduce stress, and get exercise to be healthy. Do not rely on supplements to take the place of a healthy lifestyle, and always consult a professional if you plan to use supplements to improve you health. For more information, check out this article in on the AP website:

Associated PressWorried about vitamin safety? Experts offer advice – By Marilynn Marchione – (Thursday, October 13, 2011)

Two studies this week raised gnawing worries about the safety of vitamin supplements and a host of questions. Should anyone be taking them? Which ones are most risky? And if you do take them, how can you pick the safest ones?

Vitamins have long had a “health halo.” Many people think they’re good for you and at worst might simply be unnecessary. The industry calls them an insurance policy against bad eating.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to “Ask Dr. Tara.”

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