New findings from the Iowa Women’s Health Study — pointing to a possible link between vitamin and mineral supplement use in older women and a higher death rate — don’t appear to have made an impact on the shopping decisions of New Yorkers, women or men.
“I take 40 supplements a day,” said Pat Chiavino as he left a GNC store recently. He said this includes several vitamin complexes, herbal supplements, prostate health-promoting supplements, and others. “I feel like it gives me energy, keeps me healthy.”
Omar Vasquez, the manager at a GNC store on Eighth Avenue, said business this month has been the same as usual. “You have customers coming in buying $200 to $600 in one shot,” Vasquez said. And while he says he read about the Oct. 10 study through a company message, “none of the customers have said anything,” Vasquez said.
Further uptown, Connie Glynn, a saleswoman at a midtown health and wellness shop, said she hasn’t seen a decrease in customer spending either. “We have people that spend $5,000,” she said. Still, she tries to make sure those big spenders get what they really need. “A lot of people overkill. A lot of people take too much stuff,” Glynn said. “I don’t ‘over-vitamize’ my customers.”
Glynn has strong opinions on what supplements are good for you and which ones may be potentially damaging. For example, she insisted that the generic brand calcium carbonate — sold as Calcium 1200 — doesn’t absorb as well as the calcium citrate — sold as Citracal.
Now 71, Glynn has worked in the vitamin and mineral market for nearly 20 years. “A lot of it’s the doctor’s fault,” Glynn said, indicating that doctors frequently recommend their patients pick up standard brands instead of natural supplement alternatives.
The results of the Iowa Women’s Health Study, published on Oct. 10, showed that women taking supplements including multivitamins, vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc, and copper were more likely to die before women not taking those supplements — it’s important to note that the supplements themselves weren’t directly linked to the deaths. The research took place from 1986 to 2004 and followed nearly 40,000 postmenopausal women, mostly sexagenarians, for nearly two decades.
While several news reports noted that calcium appeared to have a benign or positive effect in the study, several other studies have linked calcium supplement use to an increased incidence of heart attack, heart disease, and prostate cancer.
In short, the study calls into question the whole practice of taking supplements, a habit that appears to grow steadily as women age.
At the beginning of the study 65 percent of the roughly 60-year-old women were taking supplements, 11 years later the number grew to 75 percent, and seven years after that 85 percent of the women studied reported taking one supplement daily.
Dr. Goran Bjelakovic, who commented on the new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, pointed out a trend in supplement use away from treating deficiency and towards promoting wellness and preventing diseases. Considering the new data, Bjelakovic wrote, “We cannot recommend the use of vitamin or mineral supplements as a preventive measure…Those supplements do not replace or add to the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables and may cause unwanted health consequences.”
Some people aren’t at all surprised.
Charlotte Parry doesn’t take any supplements: “I have a lot of fruit and vegetables and don’t see the need.” The multiple bags she and her mother were carrying from the Manhattan Fruit Exchange helped to emphasize her point. After popping a few grapes in her mouth, she hypothesized that people with “crazy lifestyles” may take supplements to offset their bad behavior.
Hannah Lupien, who works at a fresh produce stand in the Port Authority terminal on Thursdays, is also dismissive of supplements. “There are some things science can’t do as well as nature,” she said. Lupien also works at the West Side Campaign Against Hunger as a policy strategist. Supplements are a “huge money maker,” she said. “But it’s total junk.”
Even Connie Glynn, when told about the new study, put her hands on her hips, narrowed her gaze and asked, “What are these women eating?”