Remember the good old days of Flintstones vitamins? We were taught to take one every day so we could grow up strong. Most of us continued that practice into adulthood, though the types of vitamins and supplements we use have changed considerably from the fruity, chalky prehistoric characters we were used to. Although your doctor may prescribe supplements and although commercials suggest their vitamins can improve your health, they can actually be detrimental to your health, especially in older women.
It is important to make sure you’re getting all of the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function properly. However, as we age, our body chemistry changes, which means the types of vitamins and minerals we need most will change as well. More than 38,000 women were the subject of an Iowa Women’s Health Study concerning vitamin and mineral supplements. Their results showed that most supplements had no obvious affect, but there were a few that actually increased the mortality rate in older women. The culprits included Vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc, and copper. Specifically, Iron seemed to be the most dangerous, with 15% of study participants who used it regularly dyeing. Calcium, on the other hand, seemed to have the opposite effect, meaning it actually decreased the mortality rate.
Although this information may seem frightening, it’s important to put it into context. Women in particular need Iron, so you never want to cut it out of your regimen completely. That said, it’s better to get in the form of red meat and green leafy vegetables than in a vitamin. The same is true of pretty much all supplements. Your body will do a much better job of processing and using vitamins and minerals that are in food form. Vitamins, when used on top of your usual diet, will easily put your system out of balance, which is what leads to dangerous levels of one or the other. Likewise with Calcium, although it is important in the fight against osteoporosis, supplements can be dangerous when not taken in moderation or without the coinciding vitamins your body needs to process it. In short, unless your physician recommends it, stick to a balanced diet and forget the vitamin supplements.
- Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.