More and more research is emerging indicating that taking supplements does not yield the same health results and lowered risk of death from all causes as eating healthy foods. Supplements are falling short of their promised benefits. A significant number of Americans take nutritional supplements with the hope they will yield the same results as eating healthy foods. Many see supplements as insurance against deficiencies.
Several recent studies have failed to find any benefits to taking supplements in the absence of actual deficiencies. If you have a nutrient deficiency it does need to be addressed but with food if at all possible. Some nutrient deficiencies such as vitamins D and B12 may require supplementation due to challenges with getting these nutrients from foods in certain individuals. Older people and vegans may have a need for supplements in certain scenarios.
Some supplements have been found to actually have negative effects. One example is a 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found supplementation with vitamin E significantly increased the risk of prostate cancer in healthy men in doses as low as 400 IU per day. In another example, data from the Calgary Vitamin D Study raised the possibility that in women with adequate vitamin D levels (Not in women deficient in vitamin D), additional high-dose vitamin D supplementation could result in negative effects on bone including a loss of bone density. These aren't the only examples of how supplements can have negative effects.
It seems there are benefits to consuming nutrients as part of foods because of the complex interactions among nutrients in foods where they may act synergistically and cooperatively and not individually as they would in a supplement. There also may be other substances in foods that are good for us that we haven’t even discovered yet. When it comes to nutrition we definitely don’t fully understand all the dynamics of how nutrients work in our bodies to keep us healthy.
The best way to get your vitamins and minerals is to eat a healthy diet and get your nutrients from food. Thinking you can just take supplements and not eat healthy or worry about getting plenty of fruits and vegetables is flawed thinking that will cost you nutritionally.
Photo used with permission from the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Photo taken by Alagammai Palaniappan, RD
posted on 12/5/2020