Skip to comments.Some Vitamin Supplements Increase Death Risk Say Researchers
Posted on 02/28/2007 2:45:16 AM PST by XR7
Vitamin supplements taken by millions of people every day for their health could be increasing their risk of death a new Danish-led study suggests.
The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The international research team reviewed the published evidence on beta carotene, vitamin A, vitamin E, Vitamin C and selenium. The team was led by Dr Goran Bjelakovic, from Copenhagen University Hospital, Denmark.
These dietary supplements are marketed as antioxidants and people take them in the hope they will improve health and guard against diseases like cancer and heart disease by eliminating the free radicals that cause "oxidative stress" and damage and kill off cells.
Antioxidants are also marketed as anti-aging products because they are thought to slow down the aging process.
Some studies have suggested that antioxidants are beneficial to health, while others, mostly larger clinical trials, have concluded they have no effect on health and say in some cases that taking too many of them can be harmful.
In this study, Dr Bjelakovic and colleagues did a meta-analysis on research published before October 2005.
Meta-analysis is a way of sifting through published studies against a quality standard that looks at a number of reliability criteria such as potential for bias. Then the ones that pass the standard are taken through a statistical process to find out if they are saying something consistently reliable. There can be several levels of "sifting", each producing a more reliable and robust set of evidence.
In this case the researchers followed a method established by the Cochrane Collaboration, a group of 6,000 health care specialists who review biomedical trials and other research projects.
They started with 815 clinical trials of which 68 passed the first level of quality standard. At this level the results were inconclusive. The supplements were found to have no effect on death risk one way or the other.
They then went back and eliminated 21 of the trials, leaving only the "low-bias" ones. This was the next level of quality standard.
At this level of meta-analysis the results were different.
When looked at separately they found that Vitamin A increased death risk by 16 per cent, beta carotene by 7 per cent and Vitamin E by 4 per cent. The results for Vitamin C were not so clear, but by looking at the best quality trials there was a suggestion that it increased death risk by 6 per cent, either on its own or in combination with other supplements.
The figures from the best quality trials on selenium however showed that it might reduce death risk by 10 per cent, either on its own or in combination with other supplements, but this was not found to be statistically significant.
The overall conclusion of the study was that on balance, the best quality research shows that beta carotene, vitamin A and vitamin E may increase mortality risk, but vitamin C and selenium need further study.
A spokesperson for the supplements industry said the research was "flawed" because it included studies conducted on people who were already very sick.
The researchers say there are several potential reasons for these results. One is that the free radicals that are thought to cause the oxidative stress are the byproduct rather than the cause of disease. Another is that they may play an important role in the immune system and eliminating them could be counterproductive.
The researchers pointed out that the studies they examined only used synthetic supplements, and therefore their observations and conclusions do not apply to natural antioxidants such as those found in fruit and vegetables.
They added however that this study is important for public health reasons because between 10 and 20 per cent of people in Europe and North America take dietary supplements.
Nutritionists say that instead of taking supplements the best way to protect your health is to eat a balanced diet and to get all the vitamins you need from your food.
"Mortality in Randomized Trials of Antioxidant Supplements for Primary and Secondary Prevention; Systematic Review and Meta-analysis." Goran Bjelakovic, Dimitrinka Nikolova, Lise Lotte Gluud, Rosa G. Simonetti, and Christian Gluud. JAMA 2007;297:842-857. Vol. 297 No. 8, February 28, 2007
It's big business, and there's lots of money to be made scaring folks - just like hillary Care, global warming, etc. Take a few pills everyday and you'll never get old! Expect the vitamin companies to bury this story.
However, I am with you on the "take a few pills everyday...and everything will be rosey!" baloney. Nothing, herbal nor OTC/Rx, will fix what is bound to happen....like aging...can't escape it (darn it all!)
Watch out, this is Teddy Kennedy's cue to try for a national ban on supplements. He does that every few years.
Let's see him try to ban scotch...
The problem is not with supplements themselves, but rather in taking them in such large doses.
The average American simply doesn't eat well enough to get the US RDA of certain vitamins and minerals. Modest supplementation is seen as the 'cost' of our rather nasty daily eating habits.
When you get into trouble is when you 'megadose' on them. The belief that 'if one is good, two is better' is common and is what leads to trouble.
For example, vitamins such A and E are fat soluable, which means that they stay in your body for extended periods of time. If you're storing more than your body requires, this can lead to problems.
The key is moderation.
I'd guess that sick people are more likely to take supplements, so, naturally, people that take supplements are at increased risk. What is the evidence of causality?
I'm planning on escaping aging, what have I got to lose....:-)! Here is some support for this plan.
Indefinite lifespan can be achieved by 2020, experts say
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people taking antioxidants do not oxidize [or rust] properly and are prone to accumulation of deadwood, forest fires and spontaneous combustion.
My diet is fairly healthy if you don't count the Little Debbie Nutty Bars. I have to take a B-complex vitamin two or three times a week. If I don't sores will develop at the corners of my mouth.
I keep a tin can next to the computer and lick it whenever I feel an iron deficiency. It also stops rust from forming on my eyelids. And after I lick a hole in the can, I feed it to my goat.
I'm in perfect harmonic convergence with Gaia and Gore.
(who wants to live forever, anyway? crikey....how annoying....I know I'd end up killing myself...or at least trying!)
I will continue to take my vitamins.
Keep in mind that the socialists in the EU are desperately trying to ban over the counter sales of vitamins.
"Meta-analysis is a way of sifting through published studies against a quality standard that looks at a number of reliability criteria such as potential for bias. Then the ones that pass the standard are taken through a statistical process to find out if they are saying something consistently reliable."
Wow! Meta-analysis looks to me to have incredible potential for being able to skew results in absolutely any preconceived direction.
By simply adjusting the "reliability criteria" until you have the studies you do not like thrown out you can produce results to please anyone willing to pay for your study.
We have not seen the last of "Meta-analysis".
I've seen similar results in others.
The truth is we're all going to die. I just want to stay as healthy as long as possible.
Last night I saw a friend who has had a bout with cancer. She told me of a treatment she had and she warned that if any doctor ever told me to do it, I should turn and run the other way.
Pharmaceutical drugs have caused far more harm than any nutritional supplements.
Wake me when cigs are good for you!
Vitamin C, along with other supplements, is great for treating joint pain. Instead of a chemical pain reliever, I pop a gram of Vit C. I am healthier for it.
Good point rwc, very possible skew on the results. Still we have this lovely chance to do a long-term experiment on natural selection, let's not blow it by informing the cohort.
FDA cannot regulate anything classed as a "supplement". Lots of boomers are becoming junior Ponce DeLeons looking for the fountain of youth. Too few of them took enough sciemce courses to apprehend that in the dose lies the poison (you'd really think as many of them as are buying into botox this lesson would be second nature, but go figure).
By all means, let's let a few million of them kill themselves using the "if a little is good, more must be better" theory. Maybe we should offer a mega-dose selenium supplement just to speed the process.
If this works out, it could be better than tobacco for relieving stress on Soc Sec and Medicaid, dead folk don't use benefits.
I did my own study, interviewed myself & I was extremely happy with the results! BTW, I use supplementation as a preventative measure & not as a replacement for a poor diet. In addition, exercise is important to me. IOW, I try to live a healthy lifestyle.