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Dear Pharmacist: Are vitamins helping you?

Dear Pharmacist: I see on the news that taking vitamins can be dangerous for my health. Since I read your column weekly, I know that you like vitamins, and that they help reduce side effects in some cases. Does this study change your position? -- T.C., Gainesville, Fla.

No, it just annoys me that snippets about the Archives of Internal Medicine study get any media coverage at all. The news that multivitamins, vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc and copper might hasten our death is just ridiculous. Do you really think vitamins and minerals are suddenly bad for you? By that token, you would have to believe that eating vegetables, fruits and nuts is bad, too, because they contain the same nutrients as those proposed to be deadly in this study! C'mon people!

It's sad when Mother Nature is questioned, and vitamins are condemned based on weak and inconclusive statistics, yet other therapies that literally include "myocardial infarction" as a side effect remain on the market. This scary fact doesn't get any airtime. Let's take a closer look:

Point 1: The conclusions drawn were not based on an actual clinical trial that offered a double-blind, placebo-controlled analysis. The conclusion was drawn from data that tracked 38,722 older women who said they took vitamins for 20 years. Key word being "said."

Point 2: The University of Minnesota researchers had women fill out questionnaires. The women "said" they took vitamins. That's it! Should scientists draw sweeping conclusions about mortality based on questionnaires? The death rate could be due to any number of factors.

Point 3: Supplement takers experienced an average of 2.4 percent increased risk of dying over the course of two decades, compared with women who didn't take supplements; adjustments were made for age and caloric intake. I'll spare you the number details here, but there was only a 1 percent difference between death rates for the two groups. You can scare more people by manipulating statistics and hyping a "2.4 percent increase in death." Boo!

Point 4: What was their health status? What was the baseline health status? Remember their beginning age back in 1986 was 62 years old. I'm sure some of them were virtual crockpots of disease. What if these ladies failed to take vitamins in their youthful years, or took poor quality ones? Did they exercise in their youth? What was their cholesterol, insulin, Lp(a) and CRP levels? Who knows? Well-informed scientists would never assign sole blame to vitamins when the data is being extracting about seniors who almost always have multiple health concerns and take numerous prescription drugs. There's no linear connection. Do you see how silly this all is?

Point 5: Nutritional status was never objectively evaluated. How did they eat? Did they smoke? For all we know they were taking dietary supplements in between cheeseburgers and fries, rather than as part of a healthy, well-balanced diet.

Point 6: What was their medication profile like? I suspect there was a lot of drug mugging going on! These ladies could very well have been so nutritionally depleted that they died of some other reason. Not one of the participants was ever given a Cardio-ION, Genova or SpectraCell blood test to determine baseline micronutrient status? Ever. Let's focus on vitamin B6 deficiency for example. More than 150 drugs rob your body of that. Run low of B6 and you're levels of toxic homocysteine will climb, raising risk for hypertension, heart attack and stroke! So how did these scientists sort out whether these elderly women were dreadfully deficient of a particular vitamin, or died from taking one? They didn't.

One more point. I firmly believe that it's best to get nutrients from eating living plant-based foods, and juicing every day -- and using dietary supplements to fill the gaps. Dietary supplements are regulated under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, through the FDA, and they are intended to support adequate nutrition, not prevent disease.

Ask your health care provider what is right for you based on your activities, age, gender, medication profile and dietary habits. And don't base your health care regimen on isolated studies; look at the body of evidence that supports a particular nutrient.

This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure your disease. Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist. To ask her a question or to learn more about your health, visit

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