This study says supplements aren’t as healthy as we thought and even harmful

Researchers analyzed data from nearly 30,000 adults ages 20 and up to “evaluate the association between dietary supplement use and death from all causes.”

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If you’ve been making up for a less-than-exemplary diet by stuffing vitamins and supplements down your throat – or if you’re enticed by the latest celebrity-endorsed supplement du jour – you may want to seriously reconsider your strategy, new research from Tufts University finds. Dietary supplements won’t extend your life, according to the research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine says. Not only that, but some vitamins can hurt you and even shorten your life if taken at excess amounts.

The bottom line: eat something. It’s that “adequate” intake of certain nutrients that reduce all-cause mortality, but only when that source of nutrients is food – not supplements.


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“Our results support the idea that, while supplement use contributes to an increased level of total nutrient intake, there are beneficial associations with nutrients from foods that aren’t seen with supplements,” said Fang Fang Zhang,M.D., Ph.D., associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and senior and corresponding author on the study, in a release. “This study also confirms the importance of identifying the nutrient source when evaluating mortality outcomes.”

Researchers analyzed data from nearly 30,000 adults ages 20 and older to “evaluate the association between dietary supplement use and death from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer,” according to a news release. Participants filled out a 24-hours food questionnaire two times and answered questions about using dietary supplements during an interview.

Here’s what researchers found you should be eating enough of for your vitamins – but not relying on supplements for:

  • Adequate intakes of vitamin K and magnesium: associated with a lower risk of death
  • Adequate intakes of vitamin A, vitamin K, and zinc are associated with a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease

Food has nutrients too!

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), here are food sources are these vitamins.

  • Vitamin K include leafy greens such as kale, spinach and broccoli.
  • Vitamin A is found in orange and yellow fruits, eggs, and vegetables.
  • Zinc is found is red meat, beans, nuts,  chickpeas, lentils, and other legumes.
  •  Vitamin A includes eggs, as well as orange and yellow fruits and vegetables.
  • Magnesium is found in leafy greens, legumes, nuts, and whole grains.

Supplements you shouldn’t be getting too much of:

  • Excess calcium intake was linked to an increased risk of cancer death – supplement doses of over 1,000 mg/day
  • It was found that the use of Vitamin D supplements by people with no sign of vitamin D deficiency may be associated with an increased risk of death from all causes, including cancer, but further research is necessary.

As usual, the lesson is to eat more whole foods, and that there’s no shortcut to being healthy.

“As potential benefits and harms of supplement use continue to be studied, some studies have found associations between excess nutrient intake and adverse outcomes, including increased risk of certain cancers,” said Zhang. “It is important to understand the role that the nutrient and its source might play in health outcomes, particularly if the effect might not be beneficial.”


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Sheila McClear|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at smcclear@theladders.com.