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Los Angeles, California


Tips for Success
Never skip a meal!

Favorite Atkins-Friendly Food
Roasted turkey with green beans

Don’t Judge a Study By How It’s Reported In The Media

A recent study published in Archives of Internal Medicine is causing a bit of controversy. The researchers reported a link between the use of vitamins (including multivitamins, folic acid, vitamin B6, magnesium, zinc, copper and iron) and an increased mortality risk in older women. The analysis tracked about 39,000 women over 19 years, however, according to the Los Angeles Times, “The research did not explore whether supplements contributed to the causes of death among women … It could reflect the possibility that the women who took … supplements were more likely to be sick from other causes and died from their underlying disease.”

In addition, we don’t know the integrity of the supplements used, what the women were eating, what kind of lifestyle they led, what were the environmental influences, and if they had a history of diseases that led to an earlier death? And there, in a nutshell, is the problem with the way this study is being reported in many places. That same Los Angeles Times article, for example, quotes a dietician arguing that the research “bolstered arguments against using supplements.” 

Other articles have made similar claims. But the study does no such thing. It seems entirely likely that the people being studied who were sick were trying to help themselves by taking supplements; hence this group was biased toward being sicker. What is important to understand is that the study only found a link between vitamins and an increased risk of death, but it didn’t prove that supplements caused death. The authors behind the study say the reasons behind the findings are not clear. “We saw an increased risk of total mortality, but we don’t really know the reason,” lead author Jaakko Murso, of the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Minnesota told CTV News. An almost identical study could be done associating frequency of visits to the doctor with the increased risk of death. But you can bet few in the media would jump to the conclusion that doctor visits are deadly, even though such a statement would not be entirely untrue.
I reached out to our VP of R&D , Lorenzo Nicastro for feedback, and his tongue-in-cheek response sums it all up: “That is similar to concluding that:
“If very few people die in church, you could live forever by making church your home. Therefore, I have decided to move and live in a church.”
The bottom line? The research is inconclusive, and now is not the time to chuck your multivitamin or calcium supplement in the trash. What is most important is following an overall healthy lifestyle: try to avoid sugar and processed foods; eat your veggies, healthy fats and protein; stay active and be positive.
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What are your thoughts on this study and how it’s being reported in the media? Do you take supplements? I’d love to hear! Please share your thoughts with the Atkins Community and also let me know what you’d like to hear about in the future. Finally, to subscribe, just go to
Published Monday, October 17, 2011 03:50 PM by colette_heimowitz
Filed Under:
colette_heimowitz said:
Thanks for the recommendations. My next blog will be discussing this. Stay tuned
October 18, 2011 02:44 PM EST
John-F said:
I take a multi vit, Magnesium, fish oil, and Vit D3.....never knew the importance of this super Vitamin, some of the stuff I have read make it sound like it could be the next cure for cancer!
October 24, 2011 06:01 PM EST
ebergstrom said:
Colette, would be nice to see your thoughts on the study linking insulin resistance and dementia. That one is incredibly intriguing.
October 18, 2011 08:43 AM EST
Betsyp said:
Colette, thank you for commenting on this study! I heard this in the news, and although I tend to discount the seemingly constant barrage of attacks against the effectiveness of nutritional supplements, it does sort of sit in the back of my mind as a question - especially this one, wherein it seemed to indicate a harmful causation. I do take supplements, mostly Standard Process prescribed by my chiropractor, as well as MSM and sometimes vitamin C. I know I need to take a multi and will probably begin taking the SP multi.
October 17, 2011 06:23 PM EST
shadowdrinker83 said:
When I saw this article pop up on my Yahoo news feed I just rolled my eyes and went straight to my email. Everything has to be taken with such a huge grain of salt these days. I love that quote about moving into a church... hysterical analogy!
November 22, 2011 06:55 PM EST
F8thful1 said:
Statistics can be a powerful tool. They can also be misread, misevaluated, and over-simplified. When I studied statistics in college, we learned the many ways they can be manipulated. For that reason, I am slow to react to statistical studies until they are repeated over time by other groups and looking at the variables in other ways. When a blanket assumption is made from one particular study, I am always suspicious at the motive. Will I still take supplements - Yes!
October 19, 2011 10:06 AM EST
Labhraín said:
Colette, than you for addressing this. With the push to regulate supplements, I won't be surprised to see more of these "studies" trying to scare people away from them. Correlation does not equal causation. We've had some bad dietary and health recommendations over the years that have come out of bad studies and conclusions that equate correlation with causation. Low fat eating is one of them. Look how well that's worked. Tom Naughton of Fathead fame gave a nice talk about how to evaluate a study, and tell whether it has some merit or whether it is really bad science. It's called Science for Smart People and can be viewed here:
October 17, 2011 05:13 PM EST
brendalong said:
Colette, I am an RN and have been taking a multivitamin for many years. In nursing we were always taught that what the body did not need, it disposed of, except for the fat soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A. I have been in a Nurses Health Study for about 15 years now and I wonder if their research is broaching on this subject. I too would like to see your thoughts on the insulin mist treatment for alzheimers. My sister developed this horrible disease at the age of 50 and died last year. My one wish in life is to see a cure for this dreaded and demeaning disease.
October 18, 2011 12:10 PM EST
ginger6008 said:
Thank you for addressing this report. My college-student daughter saw this on Good Morning America recently and promptly quit taking a daily multi and some other individual supplements. We've discussed it, but it will be good to give her more information from a pro, particularly one who is NOT her mother. Yes, I take supplements and will continue to do so. I'm also on BHRT with the help of a naturopath.
October 20, 2011 01:47 PM EST
casavoca said:
Are some supplements bad to take i take a multi and CLA and joint juice
October 24, 2011 05:39 PM EST
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