A huge proportion of Australians take vitamin and mineral supplements every day. On average, it’s about half of women and a third of men, and those proportions are even higher in groups who have more money to spend.

Most people take supplements in the hope that they’ll help them live longer in better health and the trouble with the existing evidence is that it doesn’t reflect the real world where people take multiple micronutrients for many years.

That’s why a US group studied the effects of a wide range of supplements in 30,000 people over a 20 year period.

What they found was no reduction in premature death from supplements.

What they also found was that the people who take supplements lived longer and suffer less heart disease and cancer. In other words, it wasn’t the supplements.

The kind of person who takes vitamins and minerals already lives a healthier lifestyle. They also found that higher intakes of micronutrients are associated with better health – but only when taken in food rather than pills or capsules.

And there were possible risks. Calcium supplements were linked to higher cancer rates and Vitamin D supplements if you weren’t deficient were linked to increased premature deaths and cancer.

So for most people it’s best to eat food and save your money. The exceptions may be people who have nutritional deficiencies such as from chronic illness inducing poor absorption, pregnancy and other situations. If in doubt, chat to your doctor.

Last Reviewed: 28/03/2020

© Norman Swan Medical Communications.