Last month, a Swedish study of showed that women between the ages of 49 and 83 who took a multivitamin each day were more likely to develop breast cancer than women who avoided supplements entirely. 

The Swedish scientists, whose study was published in the March 24th issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, followed 35,000 women over a ten-year period and took into account many lifestyle factors, including their dietary habits, weight, whether or not they drank alcohol and smoked cigarettes, and even their family health histories.  And when it was all said and done, the scientists found that the women who took a daily vitamin supplement were 19 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who did not use take vitamin pills. 

Immediately after the study was made public, the vitamin industry launched an aggressive campaign to discredit the research.  Other studies have shown that regular vitamin intake reduces the chances of a woman contracting breast cancer, the vitamin industry said.  Vitamin supplements, it should be noted, rake in $20 billion each year in the U.S. alone.  Half of all Americans use a multivitamin on a daily or regular basis, according to the U.S. National Institutes. But there is a biological foundation to support the Swedish study’s conclusion.  Another experiment, unrelated to the Swedish study, found that pre-menopausal women who take a multivitamin regularly are more likely to have dense breast tissue.  Indeed, their breasts tend to contain relatively less fat and more glandular and connective tissue than women who avoid supplements.   This is important because women whose breasts are more dense with lymphatic and connective tissue are more likely to develop breast disease in general, and breast cancer specifically. 

The Swedish study flies in the face of vitamin industry’s massive public relations efforts to have men and women take an array of supplements, especially calcium, vitamin D, and multivitamins. 

But new concerns are being raised about taking vitamin D as a supplement.  Scientists point out that much of the hype for vitamin D is based on the widely held belief that many people are deficient in D.  But scientists experts point out that vitamin D cannot be measured in the blood.  Rather, a metabolite of D is what’s actually measured.  If the metabolite is low, medical doctors automatically assume that vitamin D must be low, too.  But that isn’t necessarily true.  A low level of the metabolite can mean that the body is having difficulty regulating and utilizing vitamin D.  Adding more D will only make the problem worse, scientists say.  Adding more vitamin D to the system can also block celluar receptors for other vitamins, causing a cascade of negative effects at the cellular level. 

One of the most popular supplements people have been taking for decades is selenium, a mineral that acts as an antioxidant and has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer and HIV.  But now researchers are finding that taking selenium as a supplement is actually dangerous to health. 

In 2009, scientists at the United Kingdom’s Warwick University reported that selenium supplements cause an elevation in blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. 

In the U.S., scientists at Johns Hopkins University reported last year, as well, that diabetics have extremely high levels of selenium in their blood stream.  Now researchers are telling people that taking selenium supplements – either alone or as part of a multivitamin – is dangerous to health.

“I would never, ever ever take supplements with selenium in it,” said Judith Stern, a professor of nutrition and internal medicine at the University of California at Davis.  Dr. Stern went on to say that selenium supplements are poisonous to the human body.   Millions of people around the worlds are taking selenium supplements every day, either alone or as part of a multivitamin.

Finally, an increasing body of research is showing that supplements can cause liver damage.  The liver must make enzymes to absorb and assimilate every nutrient that enters the body.  Vitamin supplements contain high quantities specific nutrients in combinations that do not appear in nature.  The liver has little or no experience dealing with these combinations of nutrient sources, which are in essence foreign to human biology. 

Make no mistake.  Vitamin and mineral supplements are drugs and can have a dramatic effect on your biology – and oftentimes a negative one — especially your liver function. 

What To Do If You Want To Take A Supplement

Millions of health-conscious people insist on taking supplements, stating that they need the extra vitamins to maintain their health.  What follows are a handful of guidelines that you can follow to minimize the risk of taking a supplement, while maximizing its potential benefits. 

  1. Make sure you eat a nutrient-rich, plant-based diet. No supplement will every replace high quality, plant-foods as the source of nutrition.  There are just too many nutrients in food, and too many plant chemicals, for scientists to ever understand exactly what is in food, the arrangement of phytochemicals, and their specific quantities. 
  2. Take a specific nutrient, or nutrients, that you feel you need. Do not take a multivitamin that contains a wide array of substances. 
  3. Take only small doses of a supplement. You want to consume a nutrient in an amount that is closest to food, or the daily recommended allowances (RDA), which is typically quite low and safe.   
  4. Take a supplement that is food based, meaning it is made from food sources.
  5. If possible, make sure that the supplement is derived from a food that is grown organically, or biodynamically.
  6. Take a vitamin or mineral supplement every other day, or twice a week. Do not take any vitamin or mineral every day.  Also, from time to time, stop taking the pills in order to let your body adjust and purge any negative side effects from the drug.  This is especially important for your liver. 
  7. Only take supplements for a very short, prescribed period of time, say a week, two weeks, or a month. Once you have passed the period of feeling run down, go off the pills and rely exclusively on a plant-based diet for your nutritional needs. 

The best approach to health is to learn to use food as medicine.  Vitamin and mineral supplements may have some short-term benefit, but their long-term use can be dangerous to your body.  Don’t wait for scientists to get around to announcing that some popular vitamin – such as vitamin C or D – is really poisonous to your health.