In recent years, doctors and nutritionists have made it a point to tout the virtues of taking supplements in order for patients to maintain their health, especially seniors. If you’re concerned about staying healthy and make it a point to receive the daily recommended amount of needed vitamins and minerals, you probably take a variety of supplements.
However, the field of nutritional science remains in its infancy, and in recent months a number of studies have shown that taking supplements can actually do more harm than good.
For example, doctors have long recommended that seniors take a calcium supplement to help prevent the development of osteoporosis. Recently health experts have started to reconsider how much calcium seniors need after two studies revealed that individuals who intake too much of the mineral can actually double their risk of heart disease.
While researchers continue to study the long-term effects of the mineral’s consumption, calcium is just the latest supplement to undergo the scrutiny of scientific research. Here’s what researchers have found about other commonly taken supplements.
Found in such foods a yellow and orange vegetables and leafy greens, the body turns beta-carotene into the vitamin A after consumption. Beta-carotene supplements have become popular because they are thought to help lower your risk of heart disease and cancer. However, recent studies have actually shown that beta-carotene supplements have no effect lowering a healthy adult’s risk of heart disease or cancer, and may increase a smoker’s risk of lung cancer.
While research has shown that eating omega-3 fatty acid rich fish can help lower a person’s risk of stroke and heart attack, the evidence supporting the use of fish oil supplements is decidedly mixed.
A review of the existing research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that individuals who took fish oil supplements did not enjoy a lower rate of stroke, heart attack, or death when compared to those who took a supplement. While researchers admitted that such large studies do have certain limitations, no evidence existed that justified taking omega-3 supplements as a means of lowering the risk of heart disease.
Researchers suspect the reason eating fish offers benefits that fish oil does not relates to the complex variety of nutrients in fish. When working together with omega-3 fatty acids, these nutrients unlock healthy benefits not found in fish oil alone.
While doctors had high expectations about the benefits of vitamin E’s ability to prevent heart disease and cancer, studies have not shown that taking supplements offers any benefits. In fact, some studies have even shown that taking large doses of vitamin E could be risky.
One study involving over 35,000 men randomly assigned selenium, vitamin E, both supplements, or a placebo pill to study participants. After tracking the men’s health for seven years, researchers found that the participants who took vitamin E were 17 percent more likely to develop prostate cancer than the men who took the placebo.
A different study that involved 10,000 men and woman with high risk of heart disease randomly assigned participants to take either a placebo or vitamin E for five years found no improvement in the number of strokes, heart attacks, or deaths among individuals in either group.
Timothy Lemke is a freelance health writer. To read more of his work, visit the website of Dr. Todd Beck, a dentist in Portland.