This feature is part of a handful of columns that we YOU Docs consider among the most important stories we covered in 2011. Happy 2012 to all our readers. Love ya! — Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz, MDs
If you shoved your multivitamins into a dark corner after October 2011’s scare headlines — yep, one actually said, “Your Multivitamin May Be Killing You” — go dig ‘em out.
The research that sparked them is a great reason to get smarter about what you take (and eat).
But it doesn’t mean you should give all your vitamins the heave-ho.
We’re talking about the 19-year study of 38,000 Iowa women — the one that found a 6 percent to 45 percent higher risk of dying among those who took specific supplements.
It made vitamins sound like “the menace in your medicine cabinet.”
But we YOU Docs haven’t stopped taking ours.
For starters, this is the kind of study that’s a first step.
It’s a population study, meaning it looks for patterns that need to be investigated further.
It sounds warning bells, but doesn’t know if they’re false alarms.
Also, it relies on people remembering what foods and vitamins they consumed over seven to nine years.
(How’s your memory of the past seven years?)
For example, the women reported eating twice as many fruits and vegetables as the average American.
Really? People eat more healthfully in Iowa — home of fried butter at the state fair — than anyplace else in America?
When the study results are translated into your risk of dying from taking supplements for 19 years (what’s called absolute risk), the risk range shrinks dramatically: from 1 percent (for multivitamins) to 7 percent (for copper, the most worrisome finding). Iron also was problematic at four percent, but that wasn’t a surprise; we’ve known for a while that most people shouldn’t take iron.
The one percent for a multi was statistically significant in this study, but very small.
Here’s another reason we’re still supplement fans:
The study didn’t monitor some proven benefits. Like the reduced risk for bone fractures if you take calcium and vitamin D-3.
Or the healthier heart, brain and eyes you get from taking DHA omega-3 fatty acids.
OUR BOTTOM LINE
The right supplements are still a great insurance policy if you don’t eat perfectly (who does?).
That said, it’s a good study — but it’s a beginning, not the end. Remember, it almost always takes at least three studies to settle anything.
So here’s our what-to-take advice:
1. Take a multivitamin without copper and — if you’re a guy or a post-menopausal woman — without iron. Buy one with the recommended intake for most nutrients but no copper (easy to find online).
If you aren’t menstruating, choose a multi without iron, too, unless your doc prescribes it. Iron overload can damage your heart and liver. (Note that 98 percent of the women in the study were post-menopausal, so few should have been taking iron.)
Take half your multi in the morning, half in early evening, which spreads out the coverage.
2. Take vitamin D-3. It slightly decreased death risk in the study and has many other benefits, starting with helping your bones and brain. We recommend 1,000 IU a day, 1,200 after 60. Make sure it’s D-3, the most active form.
3. Take some calcium and magnesium. While calcium lowered death risk in the study and magnesium slightly raised it, both effects were too small and too unusual to act on without lots more research.
We’re sticking with our current advice: Get 600 mg of calcium daily from a supplement and 600 from food. Add 200 mg of magnesium to counter the constipation/bloating calcium can cause.
4. Add our favorite “extras.” Take 200 to 900 mg of DHA, the potent omega-3 fatty acid that protects against memory loss, heart attacks, stroke, impotence, even wrinkles.
Get some lutein, too; 20 mg a day guards your vision.
5. Don’t take this: Mega-doses of anything. Period.
Finally, eat good food! Lots of fruits, veggies, beans and 100 percent whole grains. Very little red meat.
Some poultry. More fish. Smart people (meaning YOU!) know pills back up a healthy diet. They don’t replace it.
The YOU Docs, Mehmet Oz, host of “The Dr. Oz Show” and Mike Roizen of Cleveland Clinic, are authors of “YOU: Losing Weight.” For more information go to www.RealAge.com.