Nutrients From Food, Not Supplements, Associated With Lower Death Risk

Researchers found the adverse health effects of a poor diet can not be offset by taking nutritional supplements.

Apr. 22, 2019
By Mary West

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Sufficient intake of cer­tain nutri­ents from food is linked to a lower risk of can­cer and all-cause mor­tal­ity, accord­ing to a new study.

Conversely, nutri­ents from sup­ple­ments are not asso­ci­ated with a reduced risk of death: in fact, some sup­ple­ments actu­ally may increase the like­li­hood of mor­tal­ity.

As poten­tial ben­e­fits and harms of sup­ple­ment use con­tinue to be stud­ied, some stud­ies have found asso­ci­a­tions between excess nutri­ent intake and adverse out­comes, includ­ing increased risk of cer­tain can­cers.- Fang Fang Zhang, asso­ciate pro­fes­sor Tufts University

The prob­lem­atic sup­ple­ments were cal­cium and vit­a­min D. Doses of cal­cium that exceeded 1,000 mil­ligrams per day were tied to a high risk of death from can­cer. Vitamin D sup­ple­ments taken by peo­ple who do not have vit­a­min D defi­ciency were con­nected to an ele­vated like­li­hood of death from all causes, includ­ing can­cer.

As poten­tial ben­e­fits and harms of sup­ple­ment use con­tinue to be stud­ied, some stud­ies have found asso­ci­a­tions between excess nutri­ent intake and adverse out­comes, includ­ing increased risk of cer­tain can­cers,” senior author Fang Fang Zhang, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, said. It is impor­tant to under­stand the role that the nutri­ent and its source might play in health out­comes, par­tic­u­larly if the effect might not be ben­e­fi­cial.”

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Researchers used data from 27,000 U.S. adults ages 20 and older to explore two rela­tion­ships. One involved the effect of nutri­ent intake on risk of death and another dealt with the dif­fer­ence between nutri­ent con­sump­tion from diet and nutri­ent con­sump­tion from sup­ple­ments on mor­tal­ity rate.


The study phase that exam­ined the impact of nutri­ents on death risk revealed three asso­ci­a­tions:

  • Sufficient intake of mag­ne­sium and vit­a­min K were linked to a lower risk of death.
  • Sufficient intake of vit­a­min K, vit­a­min A and zinc were tied to a lower car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease risk of death.
  • Excess cal­cium intake was con­nected to a higher like­li­hood of death by can­cer.

When nutri­ents from food were com­pared to nutri­ents from sup­ple­ments, the results showed the first two asso­ci­a­tions were due to nutri­ents from food rather than nutri­ents from sup­ple­ments.

While no adverse effect of cal­cium intake from food was noted, excess cal­cium intake from sup­ple­ments was linked to an increased risk of death from can­cer. In addi­tion, sup­ple­ments had no effect on the risk of death in peo­ple with low nutri­ent intake from food.

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,” Zhang said. This study also con­firms the impor­tance of iden­ti­fy­ing the nutri­ent source when eval­u­at­ing mor­tal­ity out­comes.”

According to the authors, the study had some lim­i­ta­tions such as reliance on self-reports, which are sub­ject to recall bias. Results were pub­lished in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Taylor Engelke, a reg­is­tered dietit­ian and nutri­tion­ist and owner of Nutrimental Healthcare told Olive Oil Times about the fac­tors that may account for why sup­ple­ments were not linked to a lower death rate.

Much research sup­ports the phe­nom­e­non known as the syn­er­gis­tic effect of foods,” she said. It involves the idea that foods are more than the sum of their parts. Hundreds and thou­sands of phy­tonu­tri­ents work together for our over­all health.”

No one nutri­ent is more ben­e­fi­cial than another, just as no sin­gle organ in the body is more impor­tant than the oth­ers because they all work in tan­dem to keep the body func­tion­ing well,” she con­tin­ued. Other fac­tors that under­lie the ben­e­fit involve fiber, as well as the greater bioavail­abil­ity of nutri­ents in food com­pared to nutri­ents in sup­ple­ments.”

Calcium, for exam­ple, is much more eas­ily absorbed and used to strengthen our bones when ingested in a glass of milk or cup of spinach rather tak­ing a cal­cium car­bon­ate tablet,” she added.

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