Pincott: Who to believe when it comes to supplement usage

Well the press is at it again, with scare tactics regarding a recent research paper that appeared in Archives of Internal Medicine Oct 10th 2011.

The exact title of the study is “Dietary Supplements and Mortality Rate in Older Women” but the headlines read: “Health risk warning on vitamins”, “Study Warns of Harm Caused by Multivitamins on Older Women” and “Multivitamin-taking women have higher risk of earlier death: Study”.

In preparation for some of the questions that I am bound to receive here are some of the facts behind this study.

Fact One: This statement written by the authors was not reported: “In conclusion in this large prospective cohort of older (ed: white, average age 62) women, we found that most dietary supplements were unrelated to total mortality rate.”

Fact Two: The highest risk supplement was iron. It is well known that iron can act as a pro-oxidant in those who don’t need it and people taking iron should be monitored by a health care professional expert in nutrition especially for men and women as they age.

Fact Three: Dr. Robert Verkerk Ph.D provides an expert analysis of the data of this flawed study on the Alliance for Natural Health website. In this analysis he explains how the data was massaged to ignore the fact that the study actually found that vitamin and mineral usage was associated with healthier lifestyles and the authors failed to indicate the outcome of the combined effect of this and supplement usage.

Fact Four: The data was obtained from three separate self reporting questionnaires over a 22 year period: 1986, 1997 and 2004. There was no supporting data on the nutrient status of the subjects nor dosages or forms of what supplements they were taking.

This is not good science.

Fact Five: From the analysis of the adjusted data only two ingredients were worth a closer look: calcium and iron.

In this study calcium supplementation showed to be beneficial when in fact recent studies have indicated when calcium is taken alone in the absence of Vitamin D, it showed an increase risk of heart attack.

This is a warning flag about the feasibility of this research paper. Adverse effects of high iron are well known especially in older men and women.

Fact Six: There have been other studies in the last few years about the so-called increased risk to health from vitamin E, folic acid and beta-carotene.

However what was found is that when the natural source of these nutrients were administered ie mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols vitamin E, 5-methyltetra

hydrofolate form of folic acid and mixed natural carotenoids, the reverse was true.

Fact Seven: Prescription drugs cause more deaths than traffic accidents according to a 2009 study reported in the LA Times on Sept 17th 2011, killing at least 37,485 people yearly.

There have been no deaths directly linked to the use of vitamin supplements. Prescription drugs are also the fourth leading cause of in hospital deaths in North America. Health care providers, such as naturopathic physicians, who are expert in nutritional medicine, will educate you in the importance of the form and dosage of nutritional supplements as it is increasingly difficult to get enough nutrients in our food supply from our depleted soils.

They can also perform blood tests to verify dosages of some nutrients such as iron (serum ferritin) and vitamin D 25(OH).

Don’t let this study influence your decision to supplement.

This is not a good example of excellent science and there are copious amounts of research and decades of clinical experience that suggest the opposite; that supplement usage may improve the quality of and prolong life.


Dr. Ingrid Pincott, Naturopathic Physician, has been practicing since 1985 and can be reached at 250-286-3655 or www.DrPincott.com

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