Are Supplements a Waste of Money and Do We Really Need Them After 60?

At your local grocery store, you’ve likely passed the health section and saw the seemingly endless rows of supplements lined on the shelves. From vitamin B to Calcium, there seems to be a supplement for just about every nutrient.

With so
many options to choose from and a wide variety of claims regarding the health benefits of supplements,
especially to the aging population, how do you decide which ones to take?

The answer to that question might surprise you: Take none.

Vitamins and minerals have long been used to treat nutrient deficiencies. In recent decades supplements have been promoted as a means to achieve better health and longevity – but do they actually work?

Actually, there is no proof of the real benefits of most supplements.

Recently, a group
of scientists reviewed nearly 180 randomized clinical trials
on vitamin and mineral supplement use to
determine if any benefit existed.

discovered that the four most commonly used supplements – multivitamins,
vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin C – showed no consistent benefit in preventing heart disease, heart
attack, stroke, or death from any cause.

Not only
that, niacin
(vitamin B3) and antioxidant supplements (think vitamin E)
were associated with an actual increase in risk of all-cause
mortality. In this case, supplements were
doing more harm than good.

The one
bright light might be folate, but the evidence is weak.

In a single
scientific study, folate,
commonly known as vitamin B9, was shown to reduce stroke risk by 20%.
That sounds really impressive until you take into account that
this study was conducted in China and that dietary habits of the Chinese
participants in the study were likely very different than those of typical

Many cereals and other foods in our country are fortified with
folate, so the effect seen in China might not translate to the US.

There is no question that someone with iron deficiency would
benefit from iron supplements or that a pregnant woman may want to take a
folate supplement to help prevent birth defects because she has no appetite for
leafy greens.

Many of us are vitamin D deficient because we live in northern climates with reduced sun exposure. The use of supplements in these cases is necessary, but the widespread use of supplements goes far beyond such specific situations.

In the
absence of a nutrient deficiency and given the overall lack of benefit of
supplement use, researchers encourage doctors not to routinely prescribe
supplements to their patients. And this advice makes sense.

After all, ask yourself a simple question: Americans have been
taking vitamin supplements for years but are we actually any healthier?

In fact, supplements aren’t the answer to your nutritional
problems – food is. Unlike supplements, a healthy
diet has been shown repeatedly to benefit health and health outcomes

Example: Adding 10 grams of whole food fiber per day has been shown to decrease the risk of experiencing a heart attack by 14% and to reduce the risk of dying from any cause by 27%. Additionally, adding just 1 piece of fruit per day reduces your risk of stroke by 6%.

Supplements have never been shown to have this degree of effect, so I encourage you to focus on diet, not on supplement pills. And so long as you follow a whole food, plant-based eating plan, chances are high you will get all the vitamins and minerals your aging body needs to attain better health.

What supplements do you take regularly? Why? Do you suffer from
any deficiencies? Do you see any benefit you can definitely attribute to the
supplement? Have you considered quitting the supplement and adding more of the
foods that contain the nutrients you need? Please join the conversation!

Let’s Have a Conversation!


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