A major study results showed that vitamins and other dietary supplements taken by 50+ women may actually put them at more risk.
According to scientists, there is little evidence the vitamins and dietary supplements do any good and in fact some could be causing serious harm.
The study involved nearly 39,000 women and has found multivitamins, vitamin B, folic acid, iron, magnesium and copper supplements all increased the statistical risk of premature death.
Most of the popular pills include multivitamins, vitamin A, C and E, iron, folic acid and calcium – which are all thought to improve long-term health and ward off illnesses.
Scientists from U.S., Finland, Norway, and South Korea looked at the long-term health effects of common vitamin and minerals supplements on 38,772 women aged 55 to 69.
Women had been asked to record any supplements they regularly took over an 18-year period.
The study results, which were published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found copper increased the risk of dying prematurely by 18%. Folic acid – which pregnant women are told to take to protect their child against spina bifida – increased risk of death by almost 6%, while iron raised the risk by nearly 4%.
The study also showed that multivitamins raised the risk of premature death in 50+ women by 2.4%, vitamin B6 by 4%, magnesium by 3.6% and zinc by 3%.
However, the researchers said they do not fully understand how supplements may trigger early death among 50+ women, but supposed they may interfere with the body’s natural defenses.
The scientists said the vitamins and dietary supplements should only be taken by patients who are malnourished and only under the supervision of a doctor. All other people should ensure they eat a balanced diet to get adequate vitamins and minerals.
Jaakko Mursu, from the University of Eastern Finland, said:
“Based on existing evidence, we see little justification for the general and widespread use of dietary supplements.
“We recommend that they be used with strong medically-based cause, such as symptomatic nutrient deficiency disease.”
The new study results back up another major study carried out at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark in 2008 which found some vitamin supplements increase the risk of dying early by 16%.
Yesterday, when scientists dismissed the latest findings, they claimed many patients took supplements to treat underlying health problems – for example iron for anaemia – so were more likely to die early anyway.
Dr. Glenys Jones, from the Medical Research Council’s Human Nutrition Research unit in Cambridge, said: “This observational study is interesting, but it does not show supplement use causes women to die earlier.”