Lately we have heard of a medical research study in the Oct 2011 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine talking about use of supplements and death rate among more than 38,000 older women enrolled in the Iowa Women’s Health Study. The study reported the possibility of a slightly increased risk of death among women who took multivitamins and other supplements, including vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc and copper. The researchers also found a reduced risk of cancer and death associated with taking calcium supplements.
First, this study was based on the recall of the women who took part. They were asked in three separate years, 1986, 1997 and 2004, to fill out a 16-page questionnaire on their supplement use and the frequency with which they ate 127 different food items. In these kinds of studies, there’s no way to verify the accuracy of participants’ recall. These types of study are observational in nature, it doesn’t tell us anything about cause and effect. Indeed, the most the researchers could say in their conclusion was that taking certain supplements “may be associated” with an increased death rate.
The strongest association seen was between iron supplements and mortality rates. This doesn’t surprise me as a daughter of someone who had iron overload. I have for years only recommended iron for menstruating women and a low dosage at that. Iron is one of the few minerals we cannot eliminate (except through blood loss or blood donation), and accumulations in the body can rise to toxic levels. Iron is an oxidizing agent that can increase the risk of cancer, diabetes, liver problems, arthritis and heart disease. Please see http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/hematology_and_oncology/iron_overload/primary_hemochromatosis.html and http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/hematology_and_oncology/iron_overload/secondary_iron_overload.html Men and post menopausal women should not take iron in their supplements unless they have had blood tests showing they are iron deficient.
And I have questions about the rest of the study’s findings. We don’t know the dosages or quality of the supplements the women took which can have different absorption rates and bioavailability in the body. Vitamins/minerals like Vitamin B6 or zinc for example can be helpful taken at the right dosages but very harmful if you take too much. And bioavailabity can be affected for example by the source of the supplement and fillers in the supplement.
What do we know? We know that between 14 to 17 percent of the women were smokers; seven to 13 percent of the women were on hormone replacement therapy and between 35 and 38 percent had high blood pressure. So generalizing about this group is questionable since the women were not completely healthy to begin with.
So in my opinion the study was flawed and pointed to something any nutritionally knowledgeable doctor (unfortunately MD’s get very little training in nutrition) should know which is too much iron will make you sick and in time kill you.
So please talk to a doctor who has had nutritional training (that includes chiropractors, naturopaths and osteopaths or an MD who has taken additional studies in nutrition) about taking a good quality vitamin/mineral supplement that would be right for you.
© 2012-Dr. Vittoria Repetto
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