The news reports last week were hard to ignore. On the same day, every major news outlet trumpeted two new studies about “dangerous” supplements. The first associated certain supplements with a shorter life span for older women. The second study said men who take vitamin E increase their risk of prostate cancer by 17%. What’s going on? Are supplements really dangerous?
While the media love “exposing” supplements on the front page – they often hold the real story until the end of the article where you’re less likely to read it. And in both cases, the real story is nothing like the headline.
For instance, in the first study, the main culprit that shortens older women’s lives was supplemental iron. No shock there. We’ve known for decades that postmenopausal women shouldn’t take iron. That’s why none of Advanced Bionutritionals products contains iron. The other nutrients followed in the study had an extremely small, statistically insignificant impact on the lifespan.
Second, the researchers said there was only an “association” between supplements and a shorter life. In other words, they didn’t have any evidence that the supplements were to blame for the shorter life spans. That’s because the study was simply a questionnaire study. They asked older women about their supplement usage. This type of study relies solely on the memory of the participants, which usually isn’t reliable.
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What’s more, the study didn’t look at other possible causes of the early death. This is extremely important. The reason many people turn to supplements is because they have a health problem that conventional medicine hasn’t fixed. It’s quite possible, even likely, that many of the participants in this study were taking prescription drugs and had serious health problems. Both of which are far more likely to cause early death than supplements.
How can I say that? It’s easy. The Centers for Poison Control said that in 2009, there weren’t any deaths caused by supplements. In the same year, over 100,000 people died from prescription drugs. And countless people died from illness. So the researchers missed the most likely cause of death in these women simply because they didn’t ask the right questions.
The same problem occurs in the vitamin E/prostate cancer study. The researchers don’t say whether they collected data on other possible causes for the increase. So it’s possible there are other factors involved.
Even more importantly, though, the headlines don’t tell you that the increased risk is very small (only 1.6 more cancers per 1,000 people taking vitamin E). This makes the other possible causes even more important. And the headlines say nothing about how easy it is to erase the increase. All you have to do is take selenium. The researchers said selenium completely wiped out the risk. Last time I checked, most multivitamins that contain vitamin E also contain selenium. So the relevance of this study is extremely small.
Vitamin E is an important nutrient for your health. You don’t want to take too much of it, unless directed by a doctor to do so. In that case, you’ll want to make sure you take selenium along with it. And postmenopausal women should avoid extra iron. Otherwise, these studies don’t really give a compelling case to question the safety of these vitamins. And they certainly shouldn’t persuade you to change your supplement regimen.
Your insider for better health,
Steve Kroening is the editor of Nutrient Insider, a twice-a-week email newsletter that brings you the latest healing breakthroughs from the world of nutrition and dietary supplements. For over 20 years, Steve has worked hand-in-hand with some of the nation's top doctors, including Drs. Robert Rowen, Frank Shallenberger, Nan Fuchs, William Campbell Douglass, and best-selling author James Balch. Steve is the author of the book Practical Guide to Home Remedies. As a health journalist, Steve's articles have appeared in countless magazines, blogs, and websites.