The key to good health generally lies in eating a balanced diet, getting enough exercise, and sleeping adequately. However, living a healthy lifestyle is no easy feat. For many individuals, time is a luxury they don’t have enough of to prepare a well-balanced meal, exercise, and get enough sleep while working a demanding job (or two) every single day.
To fill perceived nutrient gaps in their diet and maintain overall health and wellness, people often take health supplements, says Jeffrey Linder, chief of general internal medicine in the department of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Just last year, Americans spent almost $50 billion on dietary supplements. However, research shows they might not be as beneficial as advertised.
A Healthy Lifestyle Is Key
Many individuals view supplements as benign, preventative products at worst. However, more is not necessarily better when it comes to dietary supplements because they may cause toxicity, liver and kidney damage and other risks, says Manson. For example, vitamin A excess is associated with decreased bone density, hip fractures and liver problems, while too much vitamin D can cause elevated calcium levels and kidney stones, says Linder.
Instead of relying on vitamins and supplements, experts recommend having healthy lifestyle practices such as getting enough sleep and exercise, drinking in moderation, avoiding smoking and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels. “While the evidence is insufficient for taking a multivitamin or supplement, there’s excellent evidence that eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables is associated with a whole host of health benefits,” says Linder.
Vitamins and minerals tend to be better absorbed from food than from supplements, and they just can’t be packaged into a pill, says Manson. The emphasis should be on meeting nutritional needs from a healthy diet high in plant-based foods and whole foods that don’t strip vitamins and minerals through excessive processing, she adds. Ultimately, healthy lifestyle practices may be more challenging than simply taking a pill each day, but they are more beneficial in the long run.