Nutrients from Food Better Than Supplements in Lowering Death Risk

Nutrients from Food Better Than Supplements in Lowering Death Risk

by Dr. Lakshmi Venkataraman on Apr 9 2019 4:38 PM
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  • Intake of certain nutrients may reduce the risk of death due to any cause only if the nutrients are provided from the diet
  • Nutrients provided by supplements may not reduce the risk of death due to any cause
  • In fact, intake of certain supplements such as vitamin D and calcium in excess amounts may increase the risk of death due to cancer
Taking adequate amount of nutrients may reduce the risk of death due to any cause only if the nutrient is provided by the diet and not from supplements, reveals a recent study at Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.
Fang Fang Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and senior and corresponding author on the study, 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."

The findings of the study appear in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.


Effect of Nutrients From Diet Vs Supplements

  • Data for the study was obtained from a nationally representative sample of more than 27,000 U.S. adults aged 20 years and above to estimate the association between intake of dietary supplements and death from any cause such as heart disease and cancer.
  • The study team analyzed whether adequate or excess intake of nutrients influenced death risk and whether the source of the nutrient i.e diet versus supplements played a role in altering mortality risk
  • The study team used data consisting of diet recall in the past 24 hours from six two-year cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2010.
  • The daily dose of supplement consumed for each nutrient was calculated from either the product information leaflet and the frequency of dosage of the medication or the amount of food item per serving and calculating the content of each nutrient in the food
  • Death outcomes of subjects were obtained through linkage to the National Death Index using a probabilistic match, i.e. a statistical method that determines the probability that two recorded parameters belong to the same person


Findings of the Study

The study team compared the effect of nutrients derived from different sources i.e. food versus supplements. The key findings included the following:
  • Adequate intake of vitamin K and magnesium from foods, but not from supplements was associated with reduced mortality risk
  • Intake of vitamin A, vitamin K, and zinc from food sources, but not from supplements was associated with a lower risk of death from heart disease
  • Calcium supplement intake of 1,000 mg/day or more was associated with increased risk of cancer death but there was no such association found when calcium was provided from dietary foods
  • Importantly, the team found that dietary supplements did not influence the risk of death in persons who did not receive enough nutrients from food
  • Also, intake of vitamin D supplements in persons without evidence of vitamin D deficiency might be associated with a risk of all-cause mortality including cancer. However, further studies regarding this aspect are required
The findings of the study suggest that the intake of nutrients through supplements may not reduce the risk of death and do not demonstrate the same beneficial effects of nutrients derived from food sources.

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

Potential study limitations, include the time duration of the study as well as the data of dietary supplement use and dosage was self –reported and may be inaccurate. Additionally, residual confounding factors may have influenced the associations that were noted.



The study findings suggest that consuming supplements to compensate for lack of nutrients from the diet may not be as beneficial as we think nor does it reduce the risk of all-cause death.

  1. Association Among Dietary Supplement Use, Nutrient Intake, and Mortality Among U.S. Adults: A Cohort Study - (