Ethics in Medicine

First Do No Harm: Even Vitamins May Harm

Kristen Sparrow • October 12, 2011

I have been meaning to write about these recent studies for awhile. I will just direct you to the New York Times blog that covers it quite extensively. That Vitamin users would have higher rates of cancer is pretty counterintuitive, and may not prove to be the case. But there clearly is no good reason to take them according to the research. So, as always, eat your fruits and veggies and the money you save by not buying vitamins, you can spend on some organic produce instead. The vitamin industry is going strong, $9.6 billion in sales last year.

Two new studies add to the growing body of evidence that taking extra doses of vitamins can do more harm than good.

A study of vitamin E and selenium use among 35,000 men found that the vitamin users had a slightly higher risk of developing prostate cancer, according to a report published Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association. A separate study of 38,000 women in Iowa found a higher risk of dying during a 19-year period among older women who used multivitamins and other supplements compared with women who did not, according to a new report in The Archives of Internal Medicine.

The findings are the latest in a series of disappointing research results showing that high doses of vitamins are not helpful in warding off disease.

“You go back 15 or 20 years, and there were thoughts that antioxidants of all sorts might be useful,” said Dr. Eric Klein, a Cleveland Clinic physician and national study coordinator for the prostate cancer and vitamin E study. “There really is not any compelling evidence that taking these dietary supplements above and beyond a normal dietary intake is helpful in any way, and this is evidence that it could be harmful.”