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You may have heard this week about a new study which found a higher risk of death among women who used certain supplements.

It's a complicated study. Bear in mind that only white women ages 55 to 69 were enrolled in the study and they were followed for 22 years.

Those taking calcium supplements had a 3.8 percent reduced risk of death. The calcium benefit ended, however, when taking more than 900 mg per day from supplements.

It's worth noting that experts suggest many older women who take calcium supplements may not need to. I recommend no more than 800 mg a day or the risk of cardiovascular disease is increased -- and so is mortality.

The mineral most strongly associated with an increased risk of death was iron, which showed a risk increase of 3.9 percent -- and the risk increased as the dose increased, particularly over 50 mg per day. However, the study grouped dosages of under 50 mg together, making it hard to determine the risk of low dosages of iron, such as those in many multivitamins. However, there is very little reason why a postmenopausal woman should be taking iron.

Although not as statistically meaningful, other supplements were associated with the following increases in the risk of death during the study: multivitamins (2.4 percent), vitamin B6 (4.1 percent), folic acid (5.9 percent), magnesium (3.6 percent), zinc (3.0 percent), and copper (18 percent).

The bottom line: Don't take a supplement you don't need. Eat a balanced diet with five portions a day of fruits and vegetables and skip the McDonald's!

Dr. Sam Benjamin, M.D. - Integrative Medicine, weekend show host

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