Dietary Supplement Users Healthiest of All

They may not be laughing at vitamin supplement fanatics much longer.

According to an authoritative study published in The Nutrition Journal, dietary supplement users who, on average, take 17 different supplements daily, were judged to be far healthier than adults who just take a single supplement such as a common multivitamin, or who don't take dietary supplements at all.

The study, headed by Gladys Block of the University of California at Berkeley, is the first to examine measurable health parameters among consumers who take a broad array of dietary supplements, such as vitamins C, E, D, fish or flaxseed oil, lecithin, coenzyme Q10, glucosamine, B complex and others. Nearly nine in ten multi-supplement users consumed 20 or more different kinds of supplements throughout the year.

While more than half of U.S. adults take dietary supplements, nearly half of these supplement consumers take only one type of supplement, most commonly an inexpensive multivitamin.

The study compared 602 adults who took no supplements with 176 consumers who took a single supplement (usually daily or every other day, and usually a multivitamin) with 278 consumers who took a large number of different supplements.

The results of the study are startling. Instead of anticipated side effects and overdosage, researchers found the following:

  • Suboptimal levels of nutrients were far less common among the multi-supplement users.
  • Risk for disease was far lower among the multi-supplement users compared to non-users.
  • Risk for diabetes was 73% less, coronary heart disease 52% less, and self-determined health status (report health status was rated as "good or excellent") 74% more often, compared to non-supplement users.
  • Measurable health parameters were also far superior among the multi-supplement users.

High iron storage levels are associated with conditions such as liver disease, diabetes, brain and heart disease as well as frequent infections.

An interesting finding was that blood serum ferritin levels, a marker of iron load, was much higher among non-supplement (198) and multivitamin users (205) than consumers of an array of supplements (117 micrograms per liter of blood). High iron storage levels are associated with conditions such as liver disease, diabetes, brain and heart disease as well as frequent infections. Common one-a-day multivitamins often provide iron while users of a wide array of supplements may be taking nutrients that inhibit iron absorption, such as extracts from fruits, berries, grapes or bran.

  • Blood serum levels of carotenoids (beta carotene, lycopene, lutein) were three higher among multi-supplement users than non-users, and double that of multivitamin users.
  • Vitamin E levels among multi-supplement users were more than double that of non-users and multivitamin users.
  • Multi-supplement users had significantly higher HDL "good" cholesterol, lower triglycerides and C-reactive protein, and lower blood pressure, markers of cardiovascular health, than non-users and multivitamin users.

This study may dispel a common belief that a low-dose multivitamin may be sufficient to address essential nutrient shortages.

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Source: Gladys Block, et al, Usage patterns, health, and nutritional status of long-term multiple dietary supplement users: a cross-sectional study. The Nutrition Journal, 6: 30, 2007.

Open access available at http://www.nutritionj.com/content/pdf/1475-2891-6-30.pdf