Can taking vitamin supplements help me live longer and stay healthy?

Bryce B. Wylde
Alternative & Complementary Medicine
Vitamins are an important part of your healthy diet and contribute to your defense against disease. However, taking multivitamins and most supplements may not be necessary. A recent study of nearly 39,000 women who completed questionnaires beginning in 1986 found that taking dietary supplements, including vitamins, did not lead to longer life spans and did not help women avoid diseases.

The study, "Dietary supplements and mortality rate in older women: the Iowa Women's Health Study," was conducted on women with an average age of 62. Researchers asked if women took a variety of common dietary supplements, including multivitamins, vitamins A, C, D, and E, as well as beta-carotene, B vitamins, and minerals such as calcium, copper, magnesium, selenium, and zinc. It found that the risk of death was actually slightly higher for women who regularly took certain vitamins and minerals.

Taking supplements did not seem to prevent major chronic diseases, the researchers said. The exception might be calcium. Researchers found that, among the supplements reviewed, only calcium appeared to lead to a significantly lower risk of death.

But I believe the study has methodological short-falls. Among other issues, specific doses of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants looked at in the study are not in "therapeutic" range. That is, they are not taken at a dose that represents need (neither based in deficiency nor in medicinal application). The doses referenced are not context appropriate for neither disease nor predisposition.

I’m in fact not a strong advocate of the "multi." And I don’t believe that anyone should take a high, therapeutic dose of a certain vitamin unless supervised (and more importantly tested) by a professional health care provider. I am a strong advocate for functional testing and customizing individual supplement plans.
It's not yet clear whether taking supplements can help you live longer or stay healthy. Experts agree that taking supplements, such as a multivitamin, can prevent deficiencies of nutrients. According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, those who took a daily multi were 8 percent more likely to hit the recommended targets compared with those who didn’t.

But research on whether supplements extend your life or keep you healthier has been inconclusive. A National Institutes of Health expert panel concluded that there isn't enough evidence to recommend a daily multivitamin to prevent chronic disease. It is also possible to get too much of certain vitamins and minerals, especially if you often eat fortified foods, so speak with your health-care provider before taking any supplement.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.