Nightly News   |  October 10, 2011

Vitamins may pose health risk for women

Popping vitamins may do more harm than good, according to a new study at the University of Minnesota focusing on women around 62 years old. NBC’s Robert Bazell has more.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

WILLIAMS: Good evening.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: They are so ubiquitous and advertised so heavily that the unmistakable message is this, there's a vitamin or a supplement for out there -- out there for you no matter your gender, your hair color, your lifestyle, and they all contain good things for good health. And while all that is largely true, there is something else that especially women should know. They're not without their dangers and risks. In fact, there is new research just out tonight that women who take supplements, including multivitamins, appear to have slightly higher death rates , believe it or not . And while there's lots more research that needs to be done, this could cause a lot of women to rethink what they are taking. We want to begin our coverage tonight with our chief science correspondent Robert Bazell .

ROBERT BAZELL reporting: More than two-thirds of Americans, 70 percent of women , take vitamins and/or supplements. It adds up to a $28 billion a year industry. But the latest study says not so fast, at least for older women . Researchers followed more than 38,000 women average age 61 for 19 years. They found higher death rates in those taking multivitamins, vitamin B-6 , folic acid, magnesium, zinc, copper and iron. The researchers emphasize they can't say why.

Dr. JAAKKO MURSO (University of Minnesota School of Public Health): We saw an increased risk of total mortality, but we don't really know what is the reason.

BAZELL: Calcium was associated with a lower death rate . Nancy Gripple has been taking a variety of vitamins and supplements for most of her life.

Ms. NANCY GRIPPLE: I just don't think we get the nutrition we need from the foods we eat.

BAZELL: But many researchers point out that however they are advertised, most vitamins and supplements are medically necessary only for people who have deficiencies from what they get in their diet.

Ms. LISA CIMPERMAN (UH Case Medical Center Cleveland): Vitamin deficiencies are relatively rare in the United States because we tend to overeat.

BAZELL: No one involved in nutrition research believes this one study will be the last word on the subject. Other studies have not shown the same level of risk. The industry association representing supplement and vitamin makers points that out, and in a statement adds, "The study may make for interesting scientific water cooler discussion, but certainly does not warrant sweeping, overstated concerns for elderly women ."

BAZELL: Still, many experts say this and other research points to the need for people to talk to their doctors about what vitamins and supplements they really need.

Ms. GRIPPLE: Here's to your health.

BAZELL: Robert Bazell , NBC News, Chicago.