Hospitals

A closer look at vitamin E in men and multivitamins for women

I am a big fan of some vitamin supplements — notably vitamin D — which many people living urban lives tend to get significantly too little of. But there is some recent bad news about vitamin supplements. The first piece is that a large study suggests that there is a very slight link between taking […]

I am a big fan of some vitamin supplements — notably vitamin D — which many people living urban lives tend to get significantly too little of. But there is some recent bad news about vitamin supplements. The first piece is that a large study suggests that there is a very slight link between taking large doses of vitamin E and an increased risk of prostate cancer in men.

But a closer look does make the link seem very tenuous at best. Basically in a large study, men who took very large daily doses of vitamin E were shown to have a 1% increased risk of prostate cancer. The difference is slight but definitely there since the study was done over time with a very large test group and a very large control group.

The second piece of bad news is that taking multivitamins for a long time has absolutely no effect on longevity in women. This study looked at vitamins A, B, C, D, E and beta carotene, selenium, calcium, copper, magnesium and zinc. But there was one exception — for women, taking calcium led to a 6% decrease in mortality over a 19 year period.

Since the differences in these studies are small (apart from better health for women who take calcium), the results still have to be regarded as a little suspect. Certainly for anyone at risk of getting two few vitamins or minerals, supplements can be a great help. In addition, some vitamins like vitamin D are beginning to be better understood and the RDA for them is being increased. But conversely there is no need to overdo it and take massive doses of vitamins.

Dr. Jan Gurley is a board-certified internist physician who writes regularly at Doc Gurley: Posts from an Insane Healthcare System

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