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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.

Do Supplements Add to Our Health?

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.

They 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 Americans.

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

Supplements Work for Specific Needs Only

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?

Better Health Lies in Quality Food

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%.

Eat Healthy and Enjoy Your Life

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.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

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!

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Sandra Pfister

I am so sick and tired of these articles throwing nutritional supplements under the bus. Study after study, and I wonder who funds those studies? Are you aware that medical students receive virtually NO training in nutrition? None at all. They prescribe drugs while not understanding the connection between diet and nutrition with regard to those drugs. Prescribing expensive calcium shots but not asking if the patient drinks caffeinated beverages (which leeches calcium, by the way). Or telling you if you take Lasix, make sure you take potassium and magnesium. I have been taking D3, calcium, B12, fish oil, PreserVision, etc. for many years with wonderful results. I hardly ever get sick, I have yet to get COVID and am healthier than most people my age. Sorry, my cousin does the same thing and is one of the healthiest in our family.

Mary Ann Read

As a Nutritionist I agree with you whole heartedly

Shaggy Maggie

(In the USA ) How about the many TV commercials …for fruits and veggies in a pill? And another with seniors lovingly explaining how a pill sharpened their lives. My BS meter goes off the charts…”SNAKEOIL”.

Rosemarie

My Primary Care MD took me off all supplements almost two years ago when I was 72. She believed that if I just ate a balanced diet I didn’t need to take them. I was skeptical…how could this be after all these years? I see her every 6 months since I take prescription drugs for cholesterol and HBP when she monitors my blood tests and all of my numbers are in the “normal” range! I think of all those dollars spent on supplements needlessly for probably 50 years…what a waste!

Kim

Are you aware that if you take a statin for cholesterol, you should be taking COQ10 which is depleted by statin use? Your doctor is not testing your bloodwork for vitamin or mineral deficiency so how do you know.

Downtowntiger

I take Nutrafol for my thinning hair. It works…..my nails, eyelashes and body hair have become longer and stronger. It is expensive, but cheaper than a hair transplant.

cynthia

I have often wondered about this – I’ve actually had 2 different doctors tell me the opposite – one says take Omega fish oil, Turmeric, etc., the other one told me it does not good. A little confusing – I will say though, that I have cut down on many vitamins.

Dawn Harrison Collins

And you trust doctors most are not trained in this area of study and dont trust the government experts HÀ HA. I take vitamins and herbs, enjoy alot of energy and good health you can’t get everything from your diet and many products in this country are full of chemicals, I will stick with my diet and vitamins not what the mainstream says or does.

Kim

I’m with you !

Kim

Doctors are not really trained in nutrition or supplementation. Fish oil and Tumeric are both necessary especially as we age. Any doctor who tells you otherwise doesn’t know what they are talking about.

The Author

Elizabeth Klodas MD, FACC trained at Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins and is a practicing cardiologist in Minneapolis, MN. She specializes in heart disease prevention. She is also founder of Step One Foods https://steponefoods.com, a company dedicated to helping patients minimize their dependence on medications through strategic dietary change.

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