Getting enough of all your essential nutrients can help you live longer. But how you take them in matters: The good-for-you vitamins and minerals only help your health when you get them straight from their whole food sources, according to a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
In fact, popping supplements won’t help, and, in some cases, it may even raise your risk for cancer and a premature death, according to the research.
In the study, Tufts University researchers pored over data from more than 27,000 men and women to evaluate the association between dietary supplement use and premature death from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. They also examined whether getting adequate or excess amounts of nutrients was associated with early death, and whether it made any difference if the nutrients came from food or supplements.
They found that getting the recommended amounts of vitamin K and magnesium was associated with a lower risk of early death; adequate amounts of vitamin A, vitamin K, and zinc seemed protective against death from heart disease, and excess calcium was linked to a higher risk of death from cancer.
But when they took their analysis a step further, they found that the findings didn’t apply across the board—it mattered where the nutrients came from: All the nutrient benefits were apparent only when the people took in those vitamins and minerals from foods.
And the health rewards vanished when the intake was through supplements. Supplementing 1,000 milligrams (mg) or more of calcium a day, for instance, was associated with a higher risk of death from cancer. But high calcium intakes from food posed no risk.
Among people with no signs of vitamin D inadequacy, taking a vitamin D supplement at 400 IU/d or higher was associated with an increased risk of dying from all causes, including cancer.
“The benefits of adequate nutrient intake on health has long been appreciated,” senior study author Fang Fang Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, told Bicycling. “When adequate intake of certain nutrients from foods is associated with a reduced risk of mortality, it may well reflect the beneficial effect of those nutrients on health. It is possible, however, this also reflects the complex interactions among multiple nutrients within foods rather than a single nutrient.”
In other words, the magnesium is good for you when you take it along with the dozens of other compounds found in leafy greens and whole grains, but not when you pull it out and take high doses of it in pill form.
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That may also explain why you can’t compensate for a poor diet with nutritional supplements. The research found that dietary supplements didn’t change the risk of early death for people who had low nutrient intakes.
This isn’t the first time supplements have been linked to increased early mortality. When investigators examined the supplement use and health data of more than 38,000 women in a study published in 2011, they found supplement use was associated with increased risk of death over the 22-year study period.
The take home message may be “more is not always better,” Zhang told Bicycling. That’s a message that seems to run counter to many American’s beliefs, as forecasters predict that U.S. men and women will drop a cool $32 billion on vitamins and nutritional supplements in 2019 alone.
It might be time to consider spending your money on some fresh veggies and new exercise gear instead.
From: Bicycling US
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