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Two New Studies Raise Concerns About Vitamin Safety

Two new studies on the efficacy of vitamins released this week reveal that taking vitamins may not be as harmless as previously thought. is reporting that a study of nearly 40,000 older women released this week found a slightly higher risk of death among those taking multivitamins and supplements. A second study found that men taking 400 units a day of vitamin E for five years had a slightly increased risk of prostate cancer.

The results of these two studies are raising serious questions about what kind, and how much of a vitamin or supplement should be taken, especially when so many foods these days are already fortified with nutrients which raises the risk of exceeding the upper limit on some vitamins.

"We're finding out they're [vitamins] not as harmless as the industry might have us believe," David Schardt, a nutritionist at the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest, told Fox.

This is a real concern when as many as one-third of Americans take vitamins, including nearly half of all people over 50. The Nutrition Business Journal reports that this amounted to $9.6 billion spent on vitamins last year, up from $7.2 billion in 2005. Multivitamin sales alone account for $5 billion in sales annually.

In spite of this huge popularity, there is no clear evidence that multivitamins help with any chronic health problem, which is why no government agency recommends them "regardless of the quality of a person's diet" says a fact sheet from the federal Office of Dietary Supplements. It's also important to note that vitamins do not undergo the kind of rigorous testing that is required of prescription medications.

For those who want to keep their bodies healthy, experts are recommending that we seek the vitamins and minerals we need from the foods we eat.

"Foods provide more than just vitamins and minerals, such as fiber and other ingredients that may have positive health effects," said Jody Engel, a nutritionist with the Office of Dietary Supplements. "It's virtually impossible to overdose on the nutrients in food."

While some people may need certain nutrients, such as pregnant or post-menopausal women, they should discuss what vitamins and supplements to take with their doctors.

For those who do need a supplement, they should be aware that there is a wide variation in quality in the vitamin industry., a company that tests supplements and publishes ratings for subscribers, has tested 3,000 products since 1999 and found serious problems.

"One out of four either doesn't contain what it claims or has some other problems such as contamination or the pills won't break apart properly," company president Dr. Tod Cooperman told Fox.

"You don't have to pay a lot. Price is not necessarily linked to quality," he said. "The quality doesn't really relate to where you're buying it. I know many people are surprised by that or don't want to believe it, but that is the case. We find good and bad products in every venue."

Experts advise consumers to choose vitamins and supplements that are tailored to their particular gender and age and to look for those that provide less ingredients rather than more because this lowers the chances of getting the wrong amount of a particular vitamin.

They also warn people taking Vitamin D to do so with a large meal because that increases absorption, and to be careful with Vitamin K because it promotes clotting and could interfere with some heart medications and blood thinners such as Coumadin.

Cancer patients should avoid Vitamin C and E because it reduces the effectiveness of certain types of chemotherapy and anyone anticipating surgery should know that some vitamins can affect bleeding and response to anesthesia.

Everyone should be sure to discuss what vitamins and supplements they may be taking with their doctor.

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