(Don’t) take your vitamins

Thu 13 Jun 2013 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , , | 1 Comment | Posted by: Gavin

Read this, “Vitamins: stop taking the pills,” the other day in The Guardian and haven’t been able to get it off my mind. There are years of training, ads, articles, infographics, friends and family voices all saying “Take your vitamins!” and then there is the science:

“In October 2011, researchers from the University of Minnesota found that women who took supplemental multivitamins died at rates higher than those who didn’t. Two days later, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic found that men who took vitamin E had an increased risk of prostate cancer.”

Just two studies.

“At least 15 studies have shown that vitamin C doesn’t treat the common cold.”

But how dangerous can it be to just pop a pill? All my life I’ve heard that this is solid, preventative medicine, the one thing I can easily do (er, besides being aware of what I’m eating and doing some exercise) that will keep me healthy and enable me to enjoy a long life?

“In 1996, investigators from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle studied 18,000 people who, because they had been exposed to asbestos, were at increased risk of lung cancer. Again, subjects received vitamin A, beta-carotene, both or neither. Investigators ended the study abruptly when they realised that those who took vitamins and supplements were dying from cancer and heart disease at rates 28% and 17% higher, respectively, than those who didn’t.”

“In 2007, researchers from the National Cancer Institute examined 11,000 men who did or did not take multivitamins. Those who took multivitamins were twice as likely to die from advanced prostate cancer.”

Read the article: “Vitamins: stop taking the pills.” Might be time to chuck the supplements.

• This is an edited extract from Killing Us Softly: The Sense And Nonsense Of Alternative Medicine, by Dr Paul Offit, published on 20 June by Fourth Estate at £13.99. To order a copy for £11.19, including free UK mainland p&p, go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop.

In the USA it is being published by Harper under the title Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine


One Response to “(Don’t) take your vitamins”

  1. Julie Day on June 14th, 2013 4:51 pm

    I always get into a muddle with all these studies. I go through spurts of letting the vitamins go and then start up again with my Calcium and Ds after a prod from my doctor.
    One caveat from the article “Some dietary supplements actually might be of value. Of the 51,000 new supplements on the market, four might be of benefit for otherwise healthy people: omega-3 fatty acids to prevent heart disease; calcium and vitamin D in postmenopausal women, to prevent bone thinning; and folic acid during pregnancy, to prevent birth defects.”

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