Vitamins Aren’t A Great Way To Get Nutrients Compared To Whole Foods, A New Study Says, & Could Even Be Harmful

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There’s an endless array of vitamins and supplements lining store shelves that promise to boost your health in so many different ways. But a major new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine says it’s better to get your nutrients from whole foods than vitamins and, in some cases, vitamins might even be worse for you, according to a news release. The researchers found that not only don’t dietary supplements extend your life, the news release says, but they might actually shorten it if taken at high levels.

Researchers from Tufts University analyzed data from nearly 30,000 adults ages 20 and older to “evaluate the association between dietary supplement use and death from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer,” the news release said. The researchers also had participants fill out 24-hour food questionnaires and answer questions about their dietary supplement use during household interviews, says NBC News, including how often they took vitamins and supplements.

The researchers found that getting adequate amounts of vitamin A, vitamin K, zinc, and magnesium could lower your risk of death, the news release said, but only if you get them from foods instead of vitamins or supplements. The researcher also found that taking more than 1,000 milligrams of calcium supplements a day could increase your risk of death from cancer, according to the news release. If you’re not getting enough nutrients from your food, the researchers also found that taking supplements doesn’t have any effect on your risk of death, the news release said.

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“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,” Fang Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and senior and corresponding author on the study, said in the news release. “This study also confirms the importance of identifying the nutrient source when evaluating mortality outcomes.”

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), some food sources of vitamin A and vitamin K include leafy greens, orange and yellow vegetables, cheese, and dairy, while you can get zinc from red meat, beans nuts, and legumes. The NIH says magnesium is also in a lot of leafy greens, legumes, nuts, and whole grains. And you might think dairy is your only option when it comes to food sources for calcium, but there are actually a lot of options out there for people who can’t or don't consume dairy or animal-based products. According to Medical News Today, chia seeds, soy milk, almonds, dried figs, tofu, white beans, sunflower seeds, broccoli rabe, edamame, kale, sesame seeds, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash, are all non-dairy sources of calcium.

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Calcium is a pretty important mineral because it does so much for the body, including help your blood vessels work properly, your muscles function, your nerves transmit singles, your hormones secrete like they’re supposed to, and of course, keep your bones strong and healthy, according to the NIH. So if you’re not sure you’re getting enough calcium and you’re concerned about this study’s findings, talk to your doctor. "If you realize you have a deficit, then supplement, but not more than the recommended daily allowance,” Dr. Rekha Kumar, an endocrinologist, told USA Today.

With so many vitamins and supplements out there, it can be hard to know what’s good for your body versus what’s marketing hype. If you’re ever in doubt, it’s never a bad idea to just give your doctor a call to talk about what’s best for your body. After all, only you really know what’s right for you.