Cutting Out the Supplements



Are you looking to save money or reduce the number of pills you are taking? Consider cutting out some of your supplements!

In a recent study of 30,000 U.S. adults that lasted over 6 years, 50% of the participants took nutritional supplements. Bottom line: the folks who did not take any supplements lived just as long as the group that did. So, if you’re looking to live a longer, healthier life, nutritional supplements may not be the best use of your money.

There were some interesting caveats to come out of this study. People who had adequate intake of vitamin A, vitamin K, zinc, and magnesium from food (not not vitamins) did seem to live longer than those with inadequate intake. However, taking supplement versions of these vitamins and minerals did not make a difference.

Alarmingly, people who took high doses of calcium and vitamin D using supplements developed cancer and died more often, respectively, than those who did not. This observation did not apply to people with similar calcium or vitamin D intake from food.

A different study this year grouped together results from 277 other studies, totaling over 1 million people and numerous supplements. In this meta-analysis, it was found that multivitamins, as well as vitamin A, C, E, and D supplements did not protect against death from any cause or reduce heart attacks and strokes.

This is not to say that all supplements are always useless, there are some clinical situations for which certain supplements may still have value. The studies mentioned above did not cover things like fracture risk, memory loss, macular degeneration, or specific cancers (e.g. patients with osteoporosis may still benefit from vitamin D and calcium supplements in terms of reducing fracture risk; and melatonin and magnesium are probably the safest things you can try to help with insomnia), nor did they address quality of life issues such as energy levels or sexual function. You should not stop any recommended supplements without first speaking to your medical provider.

If you are generally healthy, however, and are just taking vitamins because you heard they may improve your overall health, be aware that some common supplements may actually cause harm, and in terms of the “big picture” (i.e. living longer, reducing heart attack and strokes, and reducing cancer risk) supplements are no substitute or shortcut to eating a balanced heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly, and obtaining/maintaining a healthy weight.

For further discussion on vitamins under doctor supervision read our recent post on it. 

Chen F, Du M, Blumberg JB, Ho Chui KK, Ruan M, Rogers G, et al. Association Among Dietary Supplement Use, Nutrient Intake, and Mortality Among U.S. Adults: A Cohort Study. Ann Intern Med. [Epub ahead of print 9 April 2019]170:604–613.

Khan SU, Khan MU, Riaz H, Valavoor S, Zhao D, Vaughan L, et al. Effects of Nutritional Supplements and Dietary Interventions on Cardiovascular Outcomes: An Umbrella Review and Evidence Map. Ann Intern Med. [Epub ahead of print 9 July 2019].