Vitamins Can Kill You?

A new study hit the internet airwaves last week touting increased mortality in elderly women taking multivitamins.

Oftentimes, results of this manner become sensationalized.  After all, a headline announcing “Vitamins can kill you!”, brings more eyeballs.

Study Background

The researchers analyzed data complied from the Iowa Women’s study.  A study of 38,000 women followed over 19 years.  The purpose of the study is to compile data which researchers can use to search for associations.

These studies are not the type you remember from high school biology.  (If you remember high school biology at all….)  The “hold everything constant except for one variable to see if X changes Y” type of study.  These are simply an exercise in statistical analysis.

In this study, researchers concluded taking multivitamin supplements was associated with a higher “total mortality” in the study subjects.

This conclusion doesn’t state multivitamins caused mortality, but was associated with a higher chance for mortality.  A decidedly important distinction.


Although high minded scientists and researchers won’t readily admit it, in searching for these associations previous biases come into play.  (We all have biases.  My beliefs certainly lead me to a biased view of these results.)

Is it telling the researchers made a name for themselves in 2007 after publishing a study concluding antioxidant supplements lead to increased mortality?  Most scientists are not keen on publishing research that refutes their previous seminal work.

As is to be suspected, other researchers, with their own set of biases, analyzed the study results and didn’t reach the same conclusion.  Such is the nature of western medicine.  The debate continues

The bottom line

If the headlines seem a little too sensational, a little too counter intuitive, the conclusions are likely not so cut and dry.  This study certainly fits that maxim.



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