ANH: Multivitamin study is “classic example of scientific reductionism”

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Dietary supplements, Dietary supplement, Vitamin

Dr Robert Verkerk (not pictured): The research has “knowingly, or unknowingly, played into the hands of the pharmaceutical industry..."
Dr Robert Verkerk (not pictured): The research has “knowingly, or unknowingly, played into the hands of the pharmaceutical industry..."
A study published this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine that found multivitamins, and iron and copper supplements, may increase mortality rates in older women, has been slammed by industry groups.

“This study is a classic example of scientific reductionism being used to fulfil a particular need,”​ said Robert Verkerk PhD, the Alliance for Natural Health International (ANHI) executive and scientific director.

“In this case, it’s supplement bashing…Our view is that the self-reporting questionnaires, and lack of any supporting data on nutrient status of the study’s subjects, means that the majority of the trends emerging from the adjusted data on which the study’s conclusions were based are likely to be anomalous.”

Dr Verkerk pointed to the positive findings for calcium supplementation as, “findings from much more robust studies”.

Unanswered questions

The UK Health Food Manufacturers' Association (HFMA) scientific adviser, Dr Michèle Sadler questioned the causality highlighted by the researchers.

“This type of study only demonstrates an association and does not tell us whether taking supplements caused these particular effects,”​ said Dr Sadler.

“The study has many other limitations including the unknown, longer term health status of women taking the supplements, which is more likely to be linked to mortality than the supplements themselves.”

“It’s a case of which comes first, the chicken or the egg, and raises the question of how many women were taking the supplements because of ill health. How such a wide range of essential nutrients is supposed to have these effects is another unanswered question.”


Dr Verkerk said the research was flawed in design.

“Another very important point is that many factors were not controlled for, and these likely contributed to uncontrolled sources of variation and confounding that were simply ignored. Among these is the crucial issue of the forms of nutrients taken, none of which were recorded in questionnaires​.”

“For example, there are several studies that suggest that long-term use of high doses of synthetic vitamin E, beta-carotene and folic acid may increase the risk of death, these generally having at least some plausible mechanisms. But, where the natural forms are consumed, especially where these nutrients are obtained from dietary sources, quite the reverse is found.”

He said the researchers had, “knowingly, or unknowingly, played into the hands of the pharmaceutical industry, the single biggest contributor to, and controller of, medical research.”

The University of Minnesota researchers led by Jaakko Mursu, PhD, found, “several commonly used dietary vitamin and mineral supplements, including multivitamins, vitamins B6, and folic acid, as well as minerals iron, magnesium, zinc, and copper, were associated with a higher risk of total mortality.”

See coverage of the research here.

Source: Archive of Internal Medicine

2011, Volume 171, Issue 18, Pages 1625-1633

“Dietary Supplements and Mortality Rate in Older Women: The Iowa Women's Health Study”

Authors: J. Mursu, K. Robien, L.J. Harnack, K. Park, D.R. Jacobs Jr

Editorial: Archive of Internal Medicine

2011, Volume 171, Issue 18, Pages 1633-1634

Vitamin and Mineral Supplement Use in Relation to All-Cause Mortality in the Iowa Women's Health Study:

Comment on "Dietary Supplements and Mortality Rate in Older Women"

Authors: G. Bjelakovic, C. Gluu

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Another flawed study!

Posted by Dr.H.Davis,

They use synthetic nutrients in the study to make sure the outcomes are poor. I have rersearched this fact. Who has the money these 'researchers' need and want? The pharma industry and they only promote high profit drugs.

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dose response issue

Posted by GSC,

I'm surprised there hasn't been more probing into the dosages of the supplements and their relationship to outcome. For example, a table on iron intake showed supplement users takes doses astronomically higher than the RDA of 8-18mg for women. In the study, many women were taking 50-400mg/day! No wonder a link to mortality was found.

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Bought and paid for so called scientists

Posted by Jb,

It is these so called bought and paid for scientists that prostitute themselves to the highest bidder usually pharmaceutical companies that give science a bad name.
This practice has to be stopped and a more transparent and independent that includes independently funded science needs to happen, Otherwise science will be dead in the water. As more and more of the general public now mistrust scientists and rightly so.
Governments need to become independent also, get rid of these corporate lobbyists and restore human faith in them once more.

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