Are vitamin and mineral supplements a waste of money? Three research papers out this week all say they are. People who are well-nourished, the scientists concluded, gain no benefit from supplements.
I wrote extensively about supplements in my book Help Yourself To Live Longer. What concerns me about these reports is the impression that no one needs supplements. I remain convinced that many individuals do though. I set out a sort of hierarchy of vitamins and minerals, beginning with those that are most important.
At the top of my list came vitamin B12. The elderly can’t absorb vitamin B12 very efficiently from food, while vegans and vegetarians generally don’t eat food that contains it. The Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing (OPTIMA) found that supplementation with B12 after age 60 (together with folic acid and B6) slowed brain shrinkage by 30 per cent on average and in some cases by 50 per cent. That’s enormous.
DHA/EPA came next on my list as the most important forms of omega-3 fatty acids. If you eat oily fish twice a week you won’t need the supplement but many people eat no fish at all. Flaxseed oil is a big help but very few people use it. DHA/EPA has many benefits including keeping cell membranes flexible, combating arteriosclerosis, and lowering blood pressure.
Then there’s vitamin D, important for the bones, in which 70 per cent of American children have been found to be deficient. And many women have been prescribed calcium by their doctors to slow or prevent osteoporosis.