Getting nutrients from foods — not supplements — may be the key to a longer and healthier life, a new study published this week suggests.

In fact, when it comes to taking supplements in general, researchers from Tufts University claim to have found “no association between dietary supplement use and a lower risk of [early] death.”


“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,” Fang Fang Zhang, a study senior author and associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, said in a news statement.

“This study also confirms the importance of identifying the nutrient source when evaluating mortality outcomes,” added Zhang.

The researchers also said excess intake of certain supplements — namely calcium — can have harmful effects, increasing a person’s risk of a cancer-associated death, according to the study, which was published Tuesday in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

Specifically, the risk of cancer death increased with “supplemental doses of calcium exceeding 1,000 mg/day,” according to the university’s news release regarding the findings. The same was not true for calcium intake from foods.

As for those with low nutrient intake, researchers also concluded dietary supplements had “no effect on the risk of death” for those individuals. Rather, “the team found indications that use of vitamin D supplements by individuals with no sign of vitamin D deficiency may be associated with an increased risk of death from all causes including cancer,” the news release states, noting more research on this particular topic is needed.

To obtain the results, the researchers looked a data of nearly 30,000 adults in the U.S. with a minimum age of 20 years. The data was taken from a national health survey from 1999 to 2010. For the survey, participants were asked what foods they ate over the last 24 hours and what, if any, supplements they had consumed in the past 30 days, per Live Science. From there, participants were tracked for roughly six years.

By the end, 945 of those who took part in the survey died of heart disease, while 805 died from cancer, according to Live Science.

When it came to supplements vs. food, Tufts researchers found those who received an “adequate” amounts of vitamin K or magnesium over the course of the study had a lower risk of early death, while they also determined those who had adequate intakes of vitamin A, vitamin K, zinc or copper through food had a lower risk of early death from cardiovascular disease.


“As potential benefits and harms of supplement use continue to be studied, some studies have found associations between excess nutrient intake and adverse outcomes, including increased risk of certain cancers,” Zhang 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 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics similarly warns excess amounts of some vitamins and minerals can lead to health issues, recommending people instead get their nutrients from healthy foods. That said, the academy noted some individuals — such as older adults and pregnant women — may require supplements if they are at an "increased risk of nutrient deficiencies."