Just watching a Centrum Silver commercial makes me more confident about my golden years. See, I could take up sailing! Or start jogging alongside an affable golden retriever! Or lay in separate outdoor soaking tubs with my life partner under a veranda! The point is: Anything is possible in your old age—as long as you take your vitamins. The message is clear: No vitamins, no sailing, no golden retriever jogs.
Data shows 75% of American adults take some type of dietary supplement or vitamin. Walk into any pharmacy and it’s obvious the supplement industry is huge, projected to reach $300 billion in global worth by 2024. But what if the fundamental premise of vitamins and supplements—that they’ll make us healthier and help us live longer—is crap?
Harvard Health Publishing points to a study of more than 27,000 adults recently published in the journal Annals Of Internal Medicine, which found that adequate consumption of nutrients was associated with lower risk of death, but only if those nutrients come from food, not supplements. The study, funded by the National Institutes Of Health, found that benefits of consuming nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin K, magnesium, zinc, and copper, were limited to people who consumed them in food form, not vitamin form: “The researchers found the use of dietary supplements had no influence on mortality. People with adequate intake of vitamin A, vitamin K, magnesium, zinc, and copper were less likely to die. However, that relationship only held for nutrient intake from food consumption.”
At first, researchers did notice a correlation between supplements and reduced mortality, but those associations disappeared when the researchers factored in confounding variables. People who take vitamins also exercise more regularly than those who don’t, visit the doctor more often, and try to eat more healthfully, for example, according to the 2018 CRN Consumer Survey On Dietary Supplements. Once that was accounted for, the NIH notes “it appears that people who take dietary supplements are likely to live a longer and healthier life for reasons that are unrelated to their supplement use.”
What are we to do with this information? Most of us can probably stop taking vitamins, if we are currently. The NIH’s analysis says most American adults would be fine without supplements—those with nutritional deficiencies or other health issues might benefit from them—as long as they follow accepted health recommendations about diet and exercise. Sorry if you thought that pill would be a silver bullet; you’ll have to earn those spry dog jogs all on your own.