What is a great way to save money and be healthier, too? The answer, for many of us: stop spending money on packaged foods with added vitamins etc. and cut back on the vitamins and supplements you take. Most recent research on the effectiveness and safety of supplementary vitamins and minerals (supposedly to prevent heart disease, cancer and other ills) has shown that people who take them have no better, and often worse, health outcomes than people who don’t take them. Even daily multivitamins may put us at risk for negative effects, when taken on top of vitamins added to cereals, breakfast bars, fruit drinks, and other processed foods that make health claims. For example, here is what might happen when you take too much:
- Vitamin A — increased risk of hip fractures, liver abnormalities, birth defects, and lung cancer (in smokers)
- Vitamin B-6 — neurological damage
- Iron — constipation, iron overload
- Selenium — increased risk of skin cancer, diabetes
- Vitamin E — in some studies, people on high doses died at a higher rate
- Vitamin K — interference with some “blood thinning” drugs
- Folic Acid — increased risk of cancer (if you are going to get pregnant, you may need to take extra Folic Acid to reduce risk of some birth defects)
- Calcium — in men, increased risk of prostate cancer
- Phospohorus — can interfere with calcium absorption
- Zinc — associated with higher rate of advanced prostate cancer
For most of us, there is no need to worry about these potential risks, but if you are eating vitamin “enriched” foods and taking other supplements, you could be getting too much of something. Plus, there is very little evidence that we need supplements in the absence of specific deficiencies. Many of us are deficient in Vitamin D, for example, and we should have our blood tested for current levels to see how much extra we might need.
If you want to take a multivitamin for “insurance” against possible deficiencies, it may be wise to take it every other day, rather than daily. For much more on this topic see Nutrition Action Health Letter, June, 2008 (available here soon).
For an excellent and entertaining take on overly-hyped and overly-processed food, follow this link.