Taking vitamin D3 and omega-3 fatty acid pills every day won’t prevent older people from suffering from inflammation and becoming frail, a study has found.
Scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts, behind the five-year-old research, urged Americans over 50 to ditch ‘unnecessary’ pills on Tuesday and focus on exercise and diet instead Mediterranean to protect their health.
Herbal sellers say the supplements – sold by a $1.05 billion industry – can help reduce inflammation and slow age-related muscle loss, the main risks of frailty. But the scientific evidence for them is spotty, with the latest paper being the latest to suggest they have little benefit.
Dr Ariela Orkaby, an aging expert who led the study, said today: ‘We should consider de-prescribing unnecessary pills and promoting healthy lifestyles instead.
“Regular exercise and the Mediterranean diet are proven strategies for preventing frailty and should be encouraged for all older adults.”
Dr JoAnn Manson, an epidemiologist also involved in the research, added: “These new findings from VITAL are an important reminder that dietary supplements are not miracle pills or elixirs of youth.”
Shown above are the frailty scores of US adults over 50 who took once-daily omega-3 fatty acid supplements (yellow dot) and no supplement (blue dot) for the five-year study . It shows that there is no difference in the levels of frailty (indicated by the Y axis) between the groups, which means that the pills did not reduce the risk of developing frailty
This graph shows the frailty scores (Y axis) of US adults over 50 who took vitamin D3 tablets (yellow) once daily for the study compared to those who did not take a pill (blue dot). It shows no difference in frailty levels between groups, meaning the pills had no impact on reducing frailty levels
Above are omega-3 fatty acid supplements rolling off a production line
WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET RESULT IN?
Meals should be potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally whole grains, according to the NHS
• Eat at least 5 servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables each day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruits and vegetables count
• Meals based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starches, ideally whole grains
• 30 grams of fiber per day: This is equivalent to eating all of the following foods: 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, 2 whole-grain crackers, 2 thick slices of whole-grain bread, and a large baked potato with the skin on.
• Have dairy products or dairy alternatives (like soy beverages) choosing low fat and low sugar options
• Eat beans, legumes, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 servings of fish per week, one of which should be fatty)
• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consume them in small amounts
• Drink 6 to 8 cups/glasses of water per day
• Adults should consume less than 6 g of salt and 20 g of saturated fat for women or 30 g for men per day
Source: NHS Eatwell Guide
In the study – published today in the journal JAMA Network Open – scientists reanalyzed data from the VITAL study, which looked at whether supplements could fight heart disease or cancer.
They recruited 25,000 adults over the age of 50, with an even gender split and a BMI of around 28, which puts them in the overweight group. They came from all 50 US states.
First, participants were split into four groups, with a quarter receiving both vitamin D3 and omega-3 fatty acids, one each receiving just one of the supplements, and one receiving neither.
Participants were then asked to take the pills every day, with the vitamin D tablets containing 2,000 international units (IU) while the others contained 840 micrograms of omega-3 fatty acids.
This was above the levels recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which says every American adult should aim for 800 IU of vitamin D per day and up to 500 mg of omega 3 fatty acids.
To measure frailty, they completed a questionnaire at the start of the study about their physical activity, mood and underlying health conditions.
Participants completed the survey again six months later and then annually for the next four years.
The results showed at the start of the study that 3,174 people (12.7%) were classified as frail.
But after five years, another 2,487 people (an additional 11.3%) were classified as frail.
The frailty score – a measure of condition – was calculated at 0.109 at the start of the study. But in the end, it was down to 0.121.
There was no significant difference in the number of frail people between the groups that received the supplements and those that did not.
The scientists concluded, “These findings do not support routine supplementation of healthy, community-dwelling adults with vitamin D3 or omega-3 fatty acids for the prevention of frailty.
‘[But] regular exercise and the Mediterranean diet are proven strategies for the prevention of frailty and should be encouraged in the elderly.
Frailty can be triggered by inflammation and poor nutrition, with some suggesting supplements could help combat it.
The scientists added that it is possible that the pills still have a positive effect on the population suffering from major health problems. They have not been studied in this article.
Participants were recruited between November 2011 and March 2014, with the study continuing through December 2017. The data was reanalyzed by Massachusetts scientists last year.
Industry figures estimate the omega-3 fatty acid market to be worth $0.62 billion per year in North America, while the vitamin D3 market is worth $0.43 billion.
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