No reason to fear increased mortality from vitamin pills

A recently published Cochrane Review of a Danish meta-analysis has prompted news headlines around the world in the direction of "Vitamins may reduce lifespan" and "Certain vitamins could increase mortality". But the meta-analysis is ill suited to draw broad conclusions about the health effects of dietary vitamin and antioxidant supplements taken in recommended doses.

The meta-analysis has been criticised by medical experts for only including a small percentage of available studies, and it has been pointed out that a few studies upset the results of the entire report. Specificly, two large, well known, high-dosage beta-carotene trials involving smokers provided more than half the deaths in the analysis. An reanalysis of the data, where all 25 trials on beta-carotene were excluded, no longer showed any significantly increased mortality due to either vitamin A or E.

Several of the studies are conducted with people who were chronically ill and who were given extremely large doses of certain nutrients in order to see if that would cure them. Such studies are not compatible for comparison with studies carried out on healthy individuals who have been taking vitamin and mineral supplements containing nutrient doses comparable to those found in food supplements.

Also, several of the studies involve such large doses of vitamin E and vitamin A that the levels would never be approved for dietary supplements or high-strength vitamin- and mineral preparations. In fact, some of the doses were potentially toxic, yet the media uncritically link the results of the research to food supplements.

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