What Are the Effects of Daily Supplements on Your Health?

Here's proof you really should be focusing on a healthy diet.

You might want to shift your focus from your morning supplement routine to your diet if you're looking to reap the benefits of vitamins, according to a 2019 study. Here's what you should know about how daily supplements may affect your health, according to researchers at Tufts University.

In their study, researchers at Tufts University in Massachusetts found that nutrients from food are associated with living longer—but the same can't be said for vitamin supplements. The researchers analyzed data on more than 27,000 adults in the United States to evaluate the link between dietary supplements and mortality. 

So, based on the 2019 study, should you toss your daily supplements to consume those much-needed nutrients through a healthy diet consisting of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables?

How Daily Supplements Affect Your Health

"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 Fang Zhang, MD, PhD, a cancer epidemiologist at Tufts University and lead author of the 2019 study, explained in a statement.

For example, one finding was that the lower risk of death associated with adequate nutrient intake of vitamin K and magnesium was limited to nutrients from foods, not supplements.

Also, the researchers found that getting enough vitamin K, vitamin A, and zinc via a balanced diet may lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. However, getting enough of those three nutrients from supplements doesn't have the same effect. 

To be clear: There are several legitimate reasons to take supplements. For example, you might consider taking zinc, copper, and B vitamins if you have inflammatory bowel disease. You may benefit from taking vitamin D and calcium if you have osteoporosis. And if you are following a vegetarian or vegan diet, you may benefit from a B12 supplement.

But most of us can probably get the vitamins and nutrients we need from eating a variety of nutritious whole foods, Heather Caplan, RDN, a weight-inclusive registered dietician, previously told Health.

Supplements and Cancer

Additionally, the researchers discovered that getting too much calcium from supplements—defined as at least 1,000 milligrams a day—may increase your risk of dying from cancer. But that relationship doesn't exist if you get that much calcium from food.

Another interesting tidbit from the 2019 study: If you take vitamin D without being vitamin D deficient, you could increase your chances of dying from cancer. However, the researchers warned that more studies are needed to solidify that finding.

"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," noted Dr. Zhang.

Risks To Consider

If you are going to use a supplement, keep a few things in mind when shopping for vitamins:

  • Avoid buying supplements made in China (relaxed regulations could lead to contaminated products, including higher levels of mercury and aluminum).
  • Avoid discounts when shopping for supplements—the recommended dosages of cheaper products may not match established standards.
  • Refrain from taking supplements that contain kava-kava—an ingredient linked to liver damage.
  • Avoid taking bitter orange, which is associated with heart attacks and strokes.
  • Choose only trusted brands—contaminants, including mercury, cadmium, lead, arsenic, and aluminum, have been found in some supplements.
  • Tell your healthcare provider about all supplements you're taking—some can interfere with certain medications.

If you do need to take a supplement to treat a medical condition, make sure you're cautious when choosing which one to swallow each day. If you're healthy enough to avoid supplements, focus on getting enough nutrients through a balanced diet instead.

A Quick Review

Although taking a few supplements seems like the easy fix for getting all the nutrition you need, the 2019 study demonstrated that consuming nutrients from food is more effective. It also doesn't risk causing unwanted health conditions, including cancer. 

On the other hand, some supplements may be important to take for certain health conditions, so check with your healthcare provider to determine what supplements are best for you and whether any supplements you may be taking could be harmful or interact with medications.

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  2. Woo KS, Kwok TC, Celermajer DS. Vegan diet, subnormal vitamin B-12 status and cardiovascular healthNutrients. 2014;6(8):3259-3273. doi:10.3390/nu6083259

  3. Genuis SJ, Schwalfenberg G, Siy AK, Rodushkin I. Toxic element contamination of natural health products and pharmaceutical preparationsPLoS One. 2012;7(11):e49676. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049676

  4. Soares RB, Dinis-Oliveira RJ, Oliveira NG. An Updated Review on the Psychoactive, Toxic and Anticancer Properties of KavaJ Clin Med. 2022;11(14):4039. doi:10.3390/jcm11144039

  5. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Bitter orange.

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