In October 2010, the Iowa Women’s Health study came to a conclusion after nearly 30 years – certain vitamin and mineral supplements increase risk of death in women. Healthy women who took daily doses of vitamin B6, folic acid, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron and multivitamins experienced no benefits or a slightly higher risk of death than women who did not supplement, with the exception of calcium, which showed a reduced risk of death.
Researchers say vitamin and mineral supplements are not necessary for otherwise healthy people, but individuals with nutrient deficiencies, pregnant women and individuals who consume a very unbalanced diet (those who eliminate whole food groups from their diet), may see some benefits.
The over consumption of vitamin and mineral supplements is linked to the belief that health can be found in a pill. Dr. Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic, told ABCNews.com, “The concept of multi-vitamins was sold to Americans by an eager nutraceutical industry to generate profits. There was never any scientific data supporting their usage [to prevent chronic disease.]”
On the other hand, nutrition experts would argue otherwise, saying that it is not about preventing chronic disease, but aiding in the prevention of chronic disease. The real issue is not the supplementation of valuable nutrients, but improper doses and inconsistencies in manufacturing.
“We know that nutrients are beneficial in foods, but divorced of that context, and packaged somewhat ‘arbitrarily’ by us, the effects may be very different.” Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, told ABCnews.com last year.
“Arbitrary” packaging is one of the central issues surrounding supplements. The supplement industry is highly unregulated – the bodies that govern safety are companies that stand to profit from having their seal of approval on the label of these supplements. And regardless of a “seal of approval,” any supplement can hit store shelves. “You can grind up chalk dust, put it in a capsule and sell it. Tell people it does whatever and it won’t be questioned and it will sell,” says a local nutrition professor in Austin, Texas.
So, how do you separate the good from the bad?
ABCNews.com asked Dr. Jana Klauer, a private practice nutrition physician, for her thoughts, she said the surest way to get a healthy amount of nutrients is on your plate.
While that is an undeniable truth, and any nutrition expert and health advocate would agree, it is not likely that everyone will comply. There are people who hate vegetables, won’t eat fruit, restrict meat or get their nutrition from a cardboard box, Spaghetti-O’s can or drive-thru. These are the people who need the nutrient supplementation, but are not likely to supplement.
Here’s what to look for:
- Choose safety. A multivitamin that has the seal of approval from one of these groups: United States Pharmacopoeia, NSF International or ConsumerLab.com is likely safe. These are the most respected groups known to ensure that products are free of dangerous contaminants and that the plants that produce them are clean and safe.
- Consider what might be missing from your diet and lifestyle. For example, if you are a male over the age of 45, you might want to take a multivitamin with fish oil, which has heart-protecting qualities. You might want extra calcium if you are a woman worried about osteoporosis, or you might be seeking lutein to support eye health. It is important that the vitamin you choose have enough of the nutrients you seek to make a difference. Decide which nutrients you need, then check the label to see whether the multivitamin provides a substantial amount of your recommended daily intake.
- Avoid marketing gimmicks. Many multivitamin manufacturers mark up the price or include unnecessary ingredients claiming that they are “whole-food” or “energy” vitamins. The only place to get whole-food vitamins is from whole foods. There is no evidence that vitamins sourced from whole foods and then bottled are any better absorbed than other vitamins. Multivitamins that claim to deliver more energy often include caffeine, which could be dangerous for some individuals and could inhibit the absorption of other vital nutrients. Some “energy” multivitamins may include an increased number of B vitamins, subscribing to the industry-driven myth that more B vitamins equal more energy.