Taking vitamins and minerals may be linked to a shorter, not longer, life

THE QUESTION For those who are not malnourished or vitamin-deficient, does taking vitamin and mineral supplements lead to a longer life?

THIS STUDY analyzed data on 38,772 generally healthy women who averaged 62 years old when the study began. Their use of 15 dietary supplements was assessed periodically. By the end of the study, 85 percent of the women were taking at least one supplement daily, the most common being calcium, a multivitamin, Vitamin C and Vitamin E. During a 19-year span, 15,594 of the women died. Overall, the odds of dying in that time were higher for women who took supplements than for those who did not. Looking at supplements individually, risk increased by 2 to 6 percent for multivitamins, folic acid, Vitamin B6, magnesium and zinc. Risk fell by about 4 percent for calcium. Iron was described as being “of particular concern” because the chances of dying increased as women who took iron aged, even though they took lower doses of the supplement.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Older women. More than half of U.S. adults are thought to take supplements daily. Health experts generally urge people to try to get needed nutrients from food, especially fruits and vegetables.

CAVEATS Data on supplement use came from the women’s responses on questionnaires. Almost all participants were white; whether the findings apply to men and to other races was not determined. Some women may have taken particular supplements to combat health problems that may have contributed to their death (taking iron for a disease or surgery that caused anemia, for instance).

FIND THIS STUDY Oct. 10 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine (

LEARN MORE ABOUT dietary supplements at www.ods.od.
and (search for “supplement”).

Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.