People want simple answers even to difficult questions. Unfortunately, reality does not always oblige. For instance, people want a simple, easy way to be healthier and live longer. It would be so nice if just taking a few pills – or even a lot of pills – every day would be as helpful as adjusting one’s lifestyle and having regular medical checkups.
But it’s just not that simple.
A report in the October 10 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals ‘Less is More’ series reveals that consuming dietary supplements, such as iron and coppers, multivitamins and folic acids seems to be linked to a higher risk of mortality in older women – the exception appears to be calcium supplements.
The conclusion is based on a longitudinal study of 38,772 women that began in 1986. The average age of participants was 61.6 years at the start. Use of dietary supplements was self-reported. Upon follow-ups, 40.2% of participants had died after an average period of 19 years. (That’s the average follow-up time, not the average length of life of those who died after the start.)
The authors found that use of most supplements was not associated with reduced total mortality in older women, and many supplements appeared associated with increased mortality risk. After adjustment, use of multivitamins, vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc and copper, were all associated with increased risk of death in the study population. Conversely, calcium supplements appear to reduce risk of mortality. The association between supplement intake and mortality risk was strongest with iron, and the authors found a dose-response relationship as increased risk of mortality was seen at progressively lower doses as women aged throughout the study.
Findings for both iron and calcium supplements were replicated in separate, short-term analyses with follow-up occurring at four years, six years and 10 years.
“Based on existing evidence, we see little justification for the general and widespread use of dietary supplements,” the authors conclude. “We recommend that they be used with strong medically based cause, such as symptomatic nutrient deficiency disease.”
Note especially that there was a dose-response correlation between use of iron supplements and (higher) mortality risk. In other words, the more iron supplements consumed, the higher the risk.