Vitamin pills have been a hype for some years now and just as with the superfood powders there is a huge variety on the market today. Many people take supplements because of illnesses, allergies or a diet that doesn’t cover our bodies’ basic need for nutrients. Still more people take vitamins because of their alleged “preventative” qualities purported in the marketing of multivitamins and vitamin supplements. Vitamin suplements however have a darker secret and the dangers of taking vitamin pills is not well know to consumers despite the huge amount of research showing alarming correlations between the supplements and cancers.
Health minded consumers take the pills in the belief that it will be beneficial without knowing or really thinking about if they actually need them. Added to the hype is the notion that our bodies a) can’t get enough vitamins from food and that b) the recommended daily amounts are just enough to stave of deficiencies. The argument is then made that supplements are necessary and further that taking higher quantities will help you to become super fit. With this article I will try and shine a light on science that says otherwise. Why? Because it’s important to make informed decisions when it comes to our health and again, not to always trust what the food industry tells us.
Breast Cancer Link
Let’s start by looking into a Swedish study that researched the conjunction between multivitamin pills and breast cancer. It will surprise you to know that the researchers found that multivitamin users had a 19% higher risk to get breast cancer than the women who did not use any supplements. (Larson et al., 2010).
For women the the bad news continues. Evidence points to a connection between folic acid supplements and breast cancer among women. The results showed that by taking folic acid supplements the risk of getting breast cancer increased by 20%. The researchers also came to the conclusion that the women with the highest folic acid levels had a 32% higher risk of developing breast cancer than the women with lower levels. (Kim 2006) While on the subject of folic acid supplements another study showed that taking supplements of the vitamin increased the growth of polyps in the colon (Ulrich 2007). Worth noting here is that most of them are harmless but they can become cancerous. Yet another study also showed that high doses of synthetic folic acid have been associated with an increase in the growth of pre-cancerous colorectal neoplasm’s and cancer incidence (Cole et al., 2007).
Bad News for Men
In another study from France, research showed that multivitamin supplementation containing ascorbic acid, Vitamin E, β-carotene, selenium and zinc gave a significant increase in skin cancer in females (Hercberg et al., 2010).
The men reading this article should be aware that evidence points to a correlation between selenium and Vitamin E supplements and prostate cancer. The researchers found that by taking selenium supplements the risk of prostate cancer increased with 91% among men with already high selenium levels. They also found that among men with low selenium levels, taking supplements of Vitamin E increased the risk of prostate cancer with 63%. (Kristal et al., 2014)
We’ve long been told of the virtues of of β-carotene in shortening a cold (despite there being no credible evidence for this). More alarmingly however is research on the effect of β-carotene supplementations and compounds of cancer which showed that the incidence of lung and stomach cancer was significantly increased by the vitamin (Druesne-Pecollo et al., 2010)
Now, there are tons of more studies made in the field of vitamin and multivitamin supplementation and what it might do to our bodies but I figured these will be enough for this time.
So, what can we take with us from the results of the studies mentioned above? Firstly, it’s good to think twice before taking vitamin supplementation because overloading our bodies with synthetic vitamins might not be as healthy as we thought. Still, if you know that you have a lack of a certain nutrient there should be no problem, but taking supplements just in case might not be beneficial.
I think that an important fact to have in mind is that as humans we have evolved with the levels of nutrients that we normally get from food and therefore it might not be beneficial to take high doses of certain vitamins and minerals from supplementations. And what I always come back to, eating a well balanced diet will make sure that you get all the nutrients that you need and therefore you won’t have to worry about what consequences supplementations might have on your body. In my eyes, natural is always better.
Cole, B F., Baron, J A., Sandler, R S., Haile, R W., Ahnen, D J., Bresalier, R S., McKeown-Eyssen, G., Summers, R W., Rothstein, R I., Burke, C A., Snover, D C., Church, T R., Allen, J I., Robertson, D J., Beck, G J., Bond, J H., Byers, T., Mandel, J S., Mott, L A., Pearson, L H., Barry, E L., Rees, J R., Marcon, N., Saibil, F., Ueland, P M., Greenberg, R (2007). Folic Acid for the Prevention of Colorectal Adenomas. The Journal of the American Medical Association 297(21): 2351-2359
Druesne-Pecollo N., Latino-Martel P., Norat T., Barrandon E., Bertrais S., Galan P., Hercberg S (2010). Beta-carotene supplementation and cancer risk: a systematic review and metaanalysis of randomized controlled trials. Int J Cancer 127(1): 172–184
Hercberg S., Kesse-Guyot E., Druesne-Pecollo N., Touvier M., Favier A., Latino-Martel P., Brianc¸on S., Galan P (2010) Incidence of cancers, ischemic cardiovascular diseases and mortality during 5-year follow-up after stopping antioxidant vitamins and minerals supplements: a post-intervention follow-up in the SU.VI.MAX study. Int J Cancer 127(8): 1875–1881
Kristal, A R., Drake, A K., Morris, S., Tangen, C M., Goodman, P J., Thompson, I M., Meyskens Jr, F L., Goodman, G E., Minasian, L M., Parnes, H L., Lippman, S M., Klein E A (2014). Baseline Selenium Status and Effects of Selenium and Vitamin E Supplementation on Prostate Cancer Risk. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 106(3): 456
Kim., I J (2006) Does a High Folate Intake Increase the Risk of Breast Cancer? International Life Sciences Institute (1)468-475
Larsson, S C., Åkesson, A., Bergkvist, L., Wolk, A (2010). Multivitamin use and breast cancer incidence in a prospective cohort of Swedish women. American Society for Nutrition 91(5): 1268-1272
Ulrich, C M (2007) Folate and cancer prevention: a closer look at a complex picture. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 86(2): 271-273
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