Large Study Links Daily Multivitamin Use To Increased Mortality Risk

While nearly one in three Americans take a daily multi-vitamin, a new study challenges the belief that they improve health or promote longevity.

By: Sheramy Tsai | The Epoch Times

A comprehensive study of healthy U.S. adults reveals that daily multivitamin use does not promote a longer life and is linked to a 4% higher risk of mortality.

Researchers from the National Cancer Institute conducted the study, published today in JAMA Network Open. The study challenges the common perception that multivitamins improve health and longevity. The findings come as nearly one in three U.S. adults regularly takes multivitamins, often expecting to prevent chronic diseases and extend life.

About the Study

Led by Dr. Erikka Loftfield, the study sheds light on the effects of multivitamin (MV) use on longevity and questions the benefits of these popular supplements. Drawing data from three extensive cohort studies, the research followed 390,124 adults across the United States for up to 27 years, making it one of the most comprehensive analyses of its kind.

Participants, all without a history of cancer or chronic diseases, were part of the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial, and the Agricultural Health Study. They reported their multivitamin use at the study’s start and during follow-up intervals.

The data did not support a mortality benefit for multivitamin users. Instead, the results indicated a slight increase in mortality risk. The study states, “Daily MV use was associated with a 4% higher mortality risk” compared to non-users. This increased risk, though small, suggests multivitamins may not provide the expected health benefits.

The researchers accounted for other health habits like diet, exercise, and smoking. They found that multivitamin users were generally more health-conscious, often eating healthier and exercising more. However, this “healthy user effect” did not translate into a longer lifespan.

The study’s extended follow-up period allowed for a robust analysis of long-term multivitamin use. Over the study period, 164,762 participants died, providing a substantial dataset to evaluate mortality trends. The consistency of the findings across different cohorts and follow-up periods strengthened the conclusion that MV use does not significantly impact mortality rates.

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Potential Reasons behind Study Results

The study linking daily multivitamin use to increased mortality risk has sparked discussion among experts. Several potential reasons could explain the results, reflecting both the complexity of nutritional science and the study’s limitations.

Nutritional Imbalances Related to Multivitamin Use

Individuals who take multivitamins may be getting the wrong balance of nutrients. Dr. Michael Bauerschmidt, founder of Deeper Healing Medical Wellness, offers a nuanced perspective.

“What determines the need for any given supplement? Or asked another way, what is the most important supplement you need to take? The answer is it’s the one that you have the least of,” Dr. Bauerschmidt told The Epoch Times.

He emphasized that individual nutritional needs can vary greatly and change over time, which the study did not account for. This variability means that the weakest nutritional link in one person might not be the same in another, and it can shift based on various factors.

“We have no idea what the baseline nutritional status was of any of the folks in the study or if they even needed a multivitamin to begin with,” Dr. Bauerschmidt said. This omission is significant because without knowing the initial nutritional deficiencies, it is challenging to determine the true impact of multivitamin use, he explained.

Another concern is the imbalance of minerals in many multivitamins. Robert Love, a neuroscientist, noted in a video, “Multivitamins are deficient in some minerals that most of us are lacking—specifically magnesium and zinc.” He highlighted that 40 to 70% of Americans are deficient in magnesium and many multivitamins also lack adequate zinc, crucial for brain health and immunity.

Conversely, multivitamins often contain excessive amounts of minerals like copper and iron. Mr. Love explained that too much copper can cause oxidative stress and brain damage, especially if it is not balanced with zinc.

Similarly, high iron levels, which most Americans do not need, can contribute to oxidative damage and accelerate aging. This imbalance may negate potential benefits and be harmful long-term. Renowned scientist, David Sinclair, a tenured professor at Harvard Medical School avoids multivitamins due to concerns about excessive iron intake.

Quality & Type of Multivitamins

Another concern raised by Dr. Bauerschmidt is the quality and type of multivitamins taken by participants. “There is no mention of what multivitamin they were taking. Quite frankly, most of them are junk,” he noted. “My big problem with multivitamins in general is that they have a little bit of everything and not much of anything.”

He also points out that many multivitamins contain additives like magnesium stearate, which can stick to vitamins and minerals and make them harder for your body to absorb, reducing their effectiveness.

False Sense of Security

Experts also warn against the false sense of security that multivitamins can provide. Dr. Surender R. Neravetla, director of cardiac surgery at Springfield Regional Medical Centre, questions the value of multivitamins, stating on his website, “So why would you want to take something that does not help and call it an insurance policy? Don’t waste your money in exchange for a false sense of security.”

Mr. Love cautioned that relying on multivitamins as a substitute for a healthy diet is misguided. “Multivitamins and supplements, in general, are not a replacement for healthy food. It’s much more important to eat healthy food than it is to take supplements,” he said.

Should I Take a Multivitamin?

Experts urge caution in interpreting the study’s findings. Dr. Bauerschmidt argues that the retrospective nature of the study and its reliance on potentially unvalidated questionnaires add uncertainty, failing to establish a clear causative link between multivitamin use and increased mortality risk. He views this as a clear example of “association does not prove causation.”

Similarly, Morgan McSweeney, who holds a doctorate in pharmaceutical sciences and is referred to as “Dr. Noc,” told The Epoch Times that the study was observational, meaning it identifies patterns but can’t prove cause and effect.

“They did their best to control for things like the possible ‘sick user effect,’ but there could be other factors not fully accounted for, such as differences in how often people see their doctors or other health habits that aren’t reflected in the available data sets, which might influence the results,” he said. While the study states that multivitamins do not benefit longevity, it is harder to say with certainty that they cause harm, he added.

The study mainly focused on mortality, leaving open the possibility that vitamins may have other health benefits or risks not measured in this research. “Although the study did not find evidence of any benefit with respect to mortality, that does not rule out the theoretical possibility for some other type of benefit that they weren’t measuring,” Mr. McSweeney added.

Mr. McSweeney’s personal view is clear—if a health care provider recommends a supplement, follow their advice. “However, in cases where people may be choosing to take new supplements based on things they see on social media, I still don’t see strong evidence that justifies spending a lot of money on products that don’t seem to offer significant health benefits,” he said.

He suggests that people might be better off spending their money on healthy foods rich in dietary fibre and phytonutrients. “Such foods are pricey these days with inflation, but have very clear benefits for health,” he concluded.

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