New research suggests that nutrients sourced from foods appear to significantly reduce your risk for death, while nutrients from supplements do little to lower your risk.
The study, while not claiming that supplements are harmful, suggests that healthy, whole foods should always be the first place we turn to when we want to obtain a balanced diet with optimal nutrient levels.
To measure the benefits and harms of dietary supplements, researchers at Tufts University in the US studied the diets of more than 27,000 US adults aged 20 and older.
The research team then looked at death outcomes for each participant through the National Death Index.
The team found that adequate intakes of vitamin K and magnesium from food sources, not supplements, were associated with a lower risk of death. They also discovered those with higher intakes of vitamin K, magnesium, and zinc — again, from nutrients in foods, not supplements — had a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
Additionally, excess calcium intake was associated with a higher risk of death from cancer in participants who took supplemental doses of at least 1,000 milligrams (mg) per day. There was no association between cancer and calcium intake from foods.
The 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 are not seen with supplements.
Incidentally, the vast supplement industry is largely unregulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), the FDA is not authorized to review dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness before they go to market. The FDA’s role is limited to pulling a supplement from the market or curtail its use, only after a significant number of people report adverse side effects from the product., says Dixon.
Health experts say that, in general, diets should be our main source for vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Dietary supplements cannot compensate for a poor diet and they should be reserved for special circumstances to address measurable deficiencies within the body.
Our bodies are designed to absorb and use nutrients as they naturally occur in foods. When we take in high levels of nutrients from dietary supplements, our vitamins and minerals start to compete for absorption, which can eventually lead to dangerous nutrient imbalances.
Rather than load up on dietary supplements, most health experts recommend following a healthy, plant-based diet rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains. If you are considering taking a supplement, be sure to first consult your doctor. They can determine if the supplement would be safe and helpful for you.