The Dangers of Other Multivitamins

danger of multivitamins
According to an annual survey conducted by Wakefield Research, about 72% of people taking dietary supplements report taking a multivitamin on a regular basis and 93% of vitamin users are more confident about their health when taking dietary supplements.

Well-meaning people are spending their hard earned money on dietary supplements that they believe are making them healthier.

Are these people right to feel better about their health when taking dietary supplements?

In almost all cases, the answer is a resounding NO.  Not only are they often wasting their money, they are putting their health at risk.

Most multivitamins actually do far more harm than good.  The medical peer-reviewed journals are inundated with study after study showing how most multivitamins (and individual synthetic and/or isolated vitamins and minerals) may significantly increase your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia and early death.

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As opposed to dietary supplements, the studies indicate that when we get these same nutrients from natural, plant-based foods, there is a dramatic and significant decrease in risks for various diseases.  These plant foods are not only loaded with vitamins and minerals, but are also abundant in thousands of health-promoting phytonutrients and antioxidants.

What specifically are the problems with most Multivitamins?

We all have been taught to believe that vitamins and minerals are healthy.  But, there are many forms of vitamins and minerals that are very unhealthy.

Multivitamins usually do a very bad job of providing you with vitamins and minerals in a healthy way.

Here are a few main categories of problems with most multivitamins that make them unhealthy and potentially dangerous to consume:

(1)   They contain synthetic and/or isolated nutrients shown over and again in studies to be risky to your health.  These nutrients include the following:

NutrientWhat do the studies show?How much should you take in Dietary Supplements?What should I take instead?
Vitamin A (Retinol, Retinyl Palmitate and Retinyl Acetate)(1) Reduced bone mineral density and increased fracture risk. One study showed double the hip fracture rate with intake as little as 1,500 mcg daily which is only 5000 IU. This is only 200% of the RDI (Recommended daily intake). By consuming animal foods and a supplement, it is easy to be way in excess of this 5000 IU daily. (2) Birth Defects – Physicians do not permit expectant mothers to take more than 5000 IU’s because of birth defects. This is only true with Preformed Vitamin A, not with carotenoids found in plant foods. (3) Liver Toxicity – The tolerable upper limit is 10,000 IU per day, which can be reached when consuming animal foods and a dietary supplement high in preformed vitamin A.None unless you have a medical confirmation of deficiency. Highly toxic.None unless you have a medical confirmation of deficiency. Highly toxic. Mixed carotenoids found naturally in plant foods.
Isolated Beta Carotene(1) May increase risk of cancer – Likely by interfering with and blocking absorption of other dietary carotenoids, such as alpha carotene, lycopene, lutein etc. (2) Increase overall risk of mortality Never take in isolated beta carotene because it blocks absorption of the other healthy carotenoids found in plant foods. When you consume beta carotene from plant foods, you are getting a natural mix of carotenoids which is very health promoting. also getting hundreds of other carotenoids that are all absorbed together and are indicated in studies to help prevent diseasesMixed carotenoids found naturally in plant foods.
Folic Acid(1) May increase risk of breast,colon and prostrate cancer. – show in some studies to increase risk by 20% to 30%. (2) May increase risk of all cause mortality Try to never take folic acid. Folate from food.
Synthetic Vitamin E (dl-alpha tocopherol)(1) May increase risk of certain cancers, including prostrate cancer – The SELECT study showed 17% more cases of prostrate cancer in me taking only synthetic vitamin E than in men taking placebos. Don’t take high amounts. Stick to no more than 100% of the RDI (30 IU) and try and get from natural mixed tocopherols.Mixed tocopherols found naturally in plant foods
Iron(1) May increase risk of heart disease and cognitive decline. (2) May increase risk of all-cause mortality -- Acts as an oxidant, creating free-radical damage. (3) Can create gastric distress.A very dangerous supplement to take unless you have a deficiency. Only supplement with iron when you have a clinical deficiency.Do not supplement, unless there is a medical need.
Copper(1) May signigicantly contribute to cognitive decline and alzheimer’s disease. – Most people get sufficient copper in their diets and because of Most people get sufficient copper in their diets and because of copper Do not supplement, unless there is a medical need.

Many multivitamins give you too much of the following two minerals.  While deficiencies in these minerals are dangerous, taking too much is equally dangerous.  Because we get some of these minerals in our daily diets, you do not want to take in too much from a nutritional supplement, or it may cause more harm than good.

Nutrient?What do the Studies Show?How much should you take in Dietary Supplements?What should I take?
Selenium(1) High amounts may increase type 2 diabetes risk Most people should supplement their diets with selenium to make sure they are getting enough. But 100% of the rdi is too high because we still get ample amounts of selenium from our diets, and too much may be dangerous to our health. Supplement with 35-40 mcg a day only. No more.
Iodine(1) May increase risk of thyroid disease when taken in excess. Supplement just enough to make sure that, along with your diet, you are around 100% of the RDI. Supplementing with 60% to 70% of the RDI is ideal. Too much is risky, but too little may also be a risk factor for thyroid disease.Supplement with 200-400 mcg a day only. No more.

Most multivitamins are too low in certain nutrients in which we are chronically deficient.  In particular, these nutrients are Vitamin D and Vitamin B-12.  Studies show wonderful benefits, in particular, on Vitamin D because of the widespread deficiency in this nutrient.  Certain populations are at greater risk of B-12 deficiency (vegans and people who are older), and once this deficiency takes effect, it can cause irreversible damage.

NutrientWhat do the Studies Show?How much should you take in Dietary Supplements?What should I take?
Vitamin D(1) May decrease risks of cancer, including cancers of the colon and breast (2) May increase bone density and decrease hip fracture risk (3) May reduce risk of diabetes (4) May decrease all-cause mortality Most people should supplement daily with Vitamin D.Supplement with 800 IU to 2000 IU daily.
Vitamin B-12(1) Deficiencies take 5 to 10 years to develop, but can then cause anemia, neurological issues (numbness), depression, weakness, and eventually death.Non-toxic even in reasonably high doses, but still best to take enough to prevent deficiencies. Megadoses are not necessary.Supplement with Methylcobalamin (the most absorbable form of B-12). Most plant foods contain a b-12 analogue which has no b-12 activity (do not rely on foods like spirulina, tempeh, seaweed etc. for b-12 – these are not reliable sources).

[1] Johnson EJ, Russell RM. Beta-Carotene. In: Coates PM, Betz JM, Blackman MR, et al., eds. Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements. 2nd ed. London and New York: Informa Healthcare; 2010:115-20.
Solomons NW. Vitamin A. In: Bowman B, Russell R, eds. Present Knowledge in Nutrition. 9th ed. Washington, DC: International Life Sciences Institute; 2006:157-83.
Ribaya-Mercado JD, Blumberg JB. Vitamin A: is it a risk factor for osteoporosis and bone fracture? Nutr Rev 2007;65:425-38.
[2] FASEB J. 1996 May;10(7):690-701.
[3] JAMA. 2003 Jul 23;290(4):476-85.
[4] Stolzenberg-Solomon RZ et al. Folate intake, alcohol use, and postmenopausal breast cancer risk in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Apr;83(4):895-904.
Kim YI. Does a high folate intake increase the risk of breast cancer? Nut Rev; 2006; 64(10PT1) 468-75.
Figueiredo JC et al. Folic acid and risk of prostate cancer: results from a randomized clinical trial. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2009 Mar 18;101(6):432-5. Epub 2009 Mar 10.
Fife, J et al. Folic Acid Supplementation and Colorectal Cancer Risk; A Meta-analysis. Colorectal Dis. 2009 Oct 27. [Epub ahead of print]
[5] JAMA. 2009 Nov 18;302(19):2119-26. doi: 10.1001/jama.2009.1622.
[6] JAMA. 2011 Oct 12;306(14):1549-56. doi: 10.1001/jama.2011.1437.
[7] Brewer GJ. Iron and Copper Toxicity in Diseases of Aging, Particularly Atherosclerosis and Alzheimer’s Disease. Exp Biol Med 232 (2): 323. 2007
[8] Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(18):1625-1633. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.445.
[9] J Am Coll Nutr June 2009vol. 28 no. 3 238-242
Arch Neurol. 2006;63(8):1085-1088. doi:10.1001/archneur.63.8.1085.
[10] Ann Intern Med. 2007 Aug 21;147(4):217-23. Epub 2007 Jul 9.
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[11] N Engl J Med. 2006 Jun 29;354(26):2783-93.
[12] Freedman DM, Looker AC, Chang SC, Graubard BI. Prospective study of serum vitamin D and cancer mortality in the United States. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2007; 99(21):1594–1602.
[13] Ann Intern Med. 2008 Aug;149(4):242-50.
Heaney RP. Long-latency deficiency disease: insights from calcium and vitamin D. Am J Clin Nutr 2003;78:912-9.
Ensrud KE, Ewing SK, Fredman L, Hochberg MC,Cauley JA, Hillier TA, et al. Circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and frailty status in older women. J ClinEndocrinolMetab 2010;95:5266-5273.
[14] Hyppönen E, Läärä E, Reunanen A, Järvelin MR, Virtanen SM. Intake of vitamin D and risk of type 1 diabetes: a birth-cohort study. Lancet 2001;358:1500-3.
ittas AG, Dawson-Hughes B, Li T, Van Dam RM, Willett WC, Manson JE, et al. Vitamin D and calcium intake in relation to type 2 diabetes in women. Diabetes Care 2006;29:650-6.
Diabetes Care. 2013 May;36(5):1422-8. doi: 10.2337/dc12-0962.
[15] Arch Intern Med. 2008;168(15):1629-1637. doi:10.1001/archinte.168.15.1629.

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