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Can Supplements Increase a Woman’s Risk of Dying?

Study: Multivitamins, Iron, and Folic Acid Supplements May Increase Older Women’s Risk of Dying

Popular Supplements May Be Dangerous to Your Health continued...

His theory is that supplements don’t have the same checks and balances as whole foods. Supplements provide a single nutrient in isolation and may be taken in high, potentially toxic doses. Whole foods are balanced with other nutrients.

Too much vitamin B6, for example, on its own may be harmful, but the foods that contain B6, such as avocados, bananas, dried beans, and whole grains, also bring other nutrients to the table that may all work together.

“People may eat well and take supplements for a guarantee, but this wisdom is not wise,” he says.

“Supplements are regarded as safe as they come from food, but they do have drug-like effects,” Jacobs says. “It would be wise to start treating these as if they are drugs and actually test them.” Supplements are not regulated by the FDA in the same manner as drugs in the U.S.

If you can get your nutrients from food, do that, he says. Elderly people who have issues cooking or eating may need supplements, but this should be done under the guidance of their doctor.

Jaakko Mursu, PhD, of the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio, Finland, and the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, is also an author on the study. “We would advise people to reconsider whether they need to use supplements and put more emphasis on a healthy diet,” he says in an email.

Too Much Iron Dangerous

Not so fast, says Duffy MacKay, ND, the vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group representing the dietary supplement industry.

He takes issue with the new study and its findings. “The authors strongly overstated the potential for harm, while understating the benefits. The notion that the use of some supplements increases your risk for mortality is not substantiated by this data,” MacKay tells WebMD.

“Eat a healthy diet, fill in the gaps with supplements, and talk to your doctor about figuring it out,” he says.

One thing is clear from this study: Supplement users do seem to be healthier in general, he says. “A study that looks at the women who survived would be interesting.”

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