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.