Vitamins & Minerals Salt Lake City UT

The men with the highest concentration of A when the study began were 60 percent more likely to suffer a fracture than those with the lowest levels, and men with the very highest levels—in the top 1 percent range—were seven times more likely to break a bone.

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Settle for an A-Minus

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What’s the harm in swallowing a multivitamin every day? Not much, unless the pill you’re popping is high in vitamin A. In that case, you could be raising your risk of osteoporosis and hip fracture, according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine. And that’s serious, because complications from fractures are a leading cause of death among people with the bone-thinning disease.

Prior studies have shown that too much A can weaken the skeleton, but this is the first to definitively link blood levels of the vitamin with the actual risk of fracture long-term. In the study, Swedish researchers measured the vitamin A levels of 2,322 men over a period of 30 years. The men with the highest concentration of A when the study began were 60 percent more likely to suffer a fracture than those with the lowest levels, and men with the very highest levels—in the top 1 percent range—were seven times more likely to break a bone. The problem, researchers believe, is that the liver can only accommodate so much vitamin A. Once it’s at capacity, the excess leaks into the blood and then into bone cells, where it delivers a triple whammy: It inhibits the growth of new bone cells, stimulates cells that break down old bone, and even interferes with vitamin D, which helps the body maintain normal calcium levels.

“You really don’t need any more vitamin A than what the RDA calls for, which is 5,000 IUs a day,” says Karl Michaëlsson, an orthopedic surgeon at University Hospital in Sweden and lead author of the study. “And most people already get that from food.” The main sources are fortified cereal and dairy products. Many multivitamins contain the RDA and more, so look for one with the least vitamin A.

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