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Vitamin supplements aren’t healthy substitutes for nutritious food study says

A new study has found that taking daily vitamins may not be doing you as much good as you hoped – and is certainly no substitute for eating fresh, nutritious foods.

The study, led by researchers at Tufts University and conducted over the course of a decade, analysed the results from 30,000 participants to reveal that while certain vitamins and minerals could help you live longer as we have been led to believe, these vitamins and minerals need to be ingested by consuming foods that contain them – not supplements.

The findings, which were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, are yet more evidence to support the argument that taking supplemental vitamins and minerals—either as a single pill or in multivitamin form—offers no discernible benefits for an individual in terms of lengthening life span.

Of the participants who took part in the study, more than half said they took supplements regularly, with the most common being vitamins C, D, and E, as well as calcium and magnesium. Nearly 40 per cent said they took multivitamins.

The study authors also suggested that any previous links between taking supplements and improved health could, in fact, be a myth based on the lifestyle of the people who take the supplements in the first place.

“Our results and those of others suggest that supplement users have higher levels of education and income and a healthier lifestyle overall (for example, better diet, higher levels of physical activity, no smoking or alcohol intake, and healthy weight) than nonusers,” they wrote. Therefore, “the apparent association between supplement use and lower mortality may reflect confounding by higher socioeconomic status and healthy lifestyle factors that are known to reduce mortality.”

These findings could come as a blow to the supplement industry, which is worth an eye-watering $30 billion thanks to our vitamin popping and supplement purchasing habits.

In yet more unwelcome news for the industry, the study also found that high doses of calcium (1,000 mg or more per day) in supplements was linked to a higher cancer mortality rate in individuals who participated in the study. This same link was not found in foods that contained similar levels of calcium.

While the researchers concluded that more research into the use of supplements is needed before we push away the vitamin pills and stop taking supplements for good, they did say that a healthy, balanced diet should still be the number one aim for anyone looking to live a healthy (and long) life: “although adequate nutrient intake from foods could contribute to reduced risk for death, excess intake from supplements might increase mortality.”

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