Many people do not get all the nutrients they need from food and so take supplements to compensate. It’s something that’s worth an absolute fortune to the companies that produce them, with people spending around $30 billion per year on supplements in the United States alone.
But new research shows that nutrients from supplements are not as good as those from food and that the latter is linked to a lower risk of all-cause mortality and cancer.
According to the research paper, published recently in the Annals of Internal Medicine, many people would be much better off spending money on fruit and vegetables instead of supplements.
By analysing data from 27,725 participants in the Centers for Disease Control’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), researchers from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Medford, MA, found that supplements do not afford the same benefits as eating different foods.
For example, getting enough vitamin K from leafy greens and magnesium from legumes, nuts and whole grains was associated with a lower mortality rate. However, consuming 1,000 milligrams a day of calcium in supplement form was associated with a higher cancer risk, while getting excess calcium from food wasn’t.
Speaking about the findings of the research, Fang Fang Zhang of Tufts University and study senior author, said: “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.”
In other words, while supplements can help people who cannot get certain nutrients from foods due to allergies, they are not a silver bullet for health.