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.
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.