It seems as though every other day there is a new study telling us that another vitamin, herb or supplement is dangerous for our health or just doesn’t work. And without fail, over the next few weeks my patients come to me asking if they should stop taking their supplements. There is no simple answer to this question because sometimes the research is valid, but more often than not, there are serious flaws not only in the research, but even more so in the way that the media has reported the new information. Controversy sells!
The take home message for my patients is to flex their critical thinking muscles and to keep asking questions… look deeper than just the headlines! The other point that I remind my patients of is that just because it is natural, doesn’t mean it is safe. Many natural medicines and supplements can cause serious damage if not taken under the supervision of a trained healthcare provider (eg: a Naturopath!).
The most recent study to make headlines is “Dietary Supplements and Mortality Rate in Older Women” published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Oct 2011. Reported by the study/media: “several commonly used dietary vitamin and mineral supplements may be associated with increased total mortality risk”.
Things to Consider: What wasn’t reported by the media is that the authors of the study themselves admitted that they were not able to determine that the increased risk of mortality is caused by taking multivitamins. There were several flaws in the research, including that they didn’t define what a multivitamin was or identify why they were being taken. For example, often women who are newly diagnosed with a disease (eg: cancer) will start taking supplements or increase their dose. So it makes sense that these women would have a higher risk of mortality because they are already ill. There are many more issues to consider with this study, so if you have any questions, please post them as comments here.
The bottom line is the reading something on the internet or hearing it on the news doesn’t make it true. I’m always here to answer questions, so keep asking!