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Anti-aging and dietary supplements

Reviewed by Marta October 22, 2011 8 Comments
Beauty from within seems obvious. It can’t be enough to just slather on some expensive anti-aging serum, so surely we should be taking additional vitamins and antioxidants through supplements. I do subscribe to the idea of beauty from within, but I am an even bigger believer in the adage “you are what you eat”. In other words, I think actual food rather than dietary supplements is the way to go.

Just recently, the results of a huge, long-term study concluded something that many people may find very startling, if not shocking: for older women, vitamin and mineral supplements may not do much good - and might actually increase mortality risk.

The Iowa Women's Health Study analyzed data on 38,772 women with an average age 61.6. The study followed them for nearly 20 years from 1986 and 2004. Over that time the percentage of women popping at least one supplement a day increased from 62.7% to 85.1%. But of all the supplements studied, only extra calcium was positively associated with reduced risk of dying during an average 19-year follow-up.

That didn’t surprise me all that much as the benefits of calcium supplementation seem to be well-documented. But I was taken aback to see that multivitamins and supplements of vitamin B6, folic acid, magnesium, zinc, copper and especially iron were all associated with greater risk of dying.

I heard the lead researcher interviewed on the radio and, to paraphrase, her advise was to skip supplements (unless you are diagnosed with a specific deficiency) and eat food instead. Ah, food. Now there's a radical notion.

The supplement industry seems to have convinced many of us that getting enough vitamins by food is really difficult and requires chomping through mountains of cabbage and crates of oranges. This just isn’t true. Food is actually extremely efficient. One cup of spinach will give you 10 times your daily vitamin K requirement, while one cup of cereal or 2 ounces of almonds will give you all the vitamin E you need.  Oh, and all those oranges…. It takes half a cup of orange juice to deliver your daily vit C quota. I could go on, but you get the picture.

Now, I got an email the other day from Stan, with a link to a source for astaxanthin supplements. Here at TIA, we are rather intrigued by the anti-aging potential of this antioxidant. It is abundant in salmon (its what makes them salmon colored) and I get how it isn’t really practical to eat pink-colored fish every day (despite Dr Perricone’s exhortations). So perhaps, in the case of more exotic nutrients, there is a case to be made for supplements. Well, it isn’t certain. As far as astaxanthin goes, there is research that claims that they do work, but it has been paid for by supplement makers.

I take a calcium supplement each day (partly because I don’t like milk and, therefore, don’t consume all that much dairy) and, somewhat reluctantly, vitamin B12 and vitamin because my doctor had told me to. Mostly, I think supplements are waste of money (a high percentage is, literally, pissed away) and a decent diet is a much better – and totally achievable - way to go.
  • May 10, 2012

    by chris

    I want to think they're just a waste of money (my dad tells me you're making your urine expensive). My mom suffered a stroke (caused by a rare blood disease) 12 years ago and she supplemented on fish oil, multis, Q10 and a bunch of anti-oxidants to counteract the bad effects of the therapy drugs. You can't make her eat veggies, she's a picky eater. 12 years later, her skin hasn't aged. She applies no sunblock or anti-aging night cream. Her white hair and her paralyzed left hand will give away her real age but her skin is impeccable. Her hands and arms have wrinkled but not as wrinkled as most ladies her age. She's still taking her chemotheraphy drugs. I'm not sure if she's just lucky but definitely it's not genetics.

  • December 2, 2011

    by spo

    Thanks for your comment, Kathleen.. This is my point, too.. Information gathered from the media, and even many doctors, who get their info from the usual publications, will be naturally flawed regarding the value of nutritional supplementation.

    It's always best to hedge your bets, imo, and take supplements. The sources you site are excellent for advice on supplementation, along with my favorite guy, dr. weil..

  • November 30, 2011

    by Kathleen

    I love your site Marta and have nothing but admiration. I'm a health activist who used to work in Big Pharma studies before I saw the light and must caution about these health stories from the general media. This flawed study was a case of gross exaggeration. It is important to note that with the loss of income due to so many drugs going generic, Big Pharma is looking to ban many supplements (there is a bill in Congress right now) and turn others into RX! Hence, we see conventional media unwittingly being used via reporting poorly done studies as fact. For starters I would suggest reading "The China Study" by T. Colin Campbell and checking out websites by Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, Dr. Joseph Mercola, both on the cutting edge. The very popular Dr. Oz gets a thumbs up too for his inclusiveness of all health information and options.

  • October 25, 2011

    by Jennifer E

    I also take supplements, but half of what a particular company recommends, as I do believe I get SOME benefits from my dietary choices! Supplements are NOT regulated, however, so what you see isn't always what you get. There are a few very reputable companies...don't just buy the cheapest!

  • October 25, 2011

    by spo

    There's no denying that a high quality well-balanced diet will deliver an acceptable level of nutrients. But consider the problems that have been discovered with our food supply lately: for instance, genetically modified fruits and vegetables which are now present in all of our non-organic foods.

    As a nurse, I can tell you that studies have been done on genetically modified foods and those studies show that they are deficient in nutrients. But those studies are not easy to find because they are shelved and not published in most journals, and certainly not in our corporate-controlled media!

    My husband is a physician - he's an Internist/Endocrinologist, and he will tell you that the pharmaceutical companies attempt to 'deep six' any studies that show that natural supplements are beneficial to treating diseases. Nonetheless, he prescribes supplements to all his patients, and he has used supplements to treat my asthma, which greatly improved after supplementation.

    So, I take vitamin/mineral supplements and I try to keep up with the latest info on nutritional supplements. My husband and I know how to locate those 'hard to find' studies. Check out Dr. Weil's website for good nutritional supplementation info.

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