(BlackDoctor.org) — Far from being healthy, supplements such as multivitamins, minerals and folic acid may actually raise the odds for death in older women who take them, a new study suggests.
Dietary supplements are widely used in the United States, often with the hope of avoiding chronic disease. However, the long-term health consequences of many compounds are unknown, the researchers said.
“Our study raises concerns about the safety of a number of commonly used dietary supplements,” said lead researcher Jaakko Mursu, a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Eastern Finland, in Kuopio. “We would advise people to reconsider whether they need to use supplements and put more emphasis on a healthy diet,” he said.
The report was published in the Oct. 10 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
For the study, Mursu’s team collected data on nearly 39,000 women who took part in the Iowa Women’s Health Study. Specifically, the researchers looked for a connection between taking dietary supplements and the risk of death. The women in the study had an average age of 62 and reported their supplement use in 1986, 1997 and 2004.
Over 19 years of follow-up, 15,594 of the women died. Supplement use increased from 1986, when 63 percent of the women reported taking at least one supplement, to 85 percent in 2004, the researchers found.
One supplement decreased the risk of dying, but most did not, Mursu’s group found.
Multivitamins, vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc and copper were associated with increased risk of death, they said. However, calcium supplements seemed to reduce risk of death, they added.
The strongest association between a supplement and an increased risk of death was for iron, Mursu’s team noted. The more iron one took, the greater the risk, and as one aged, it took less iron to increase the risk of dying, the researchers said.
“This, of course, is just one study, and other similar studies have not found such a dramatic increase in mortality,” said Mursu, who is also affiliated with the University of Minnesota. “Nevertheless, these studies have provided very little evidence that commonly used dietary supplements would help to prevent chronic diseases.” It should be noted that the study found an association between supplement use and health risks, but did not prove a cause-and-effect.