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Americans spend enormous amounts of money on vitamins and mineral supplements in an effort to stay healthy or to improve their health. Unfortunately, unless a person has an actual vitamin or mineral deficiency, studies are just not finding health benefits. Sometimes there are even harms.

Physicians at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine weighed in on this issue. Their view: For most non-pregnant healthy Americans vitamin and mineral supplements are a "waste of money". There is no "magic set of pills to keep you healthy". Instead, a healthy diet and exercise are key.

However, they also say a pregnant women should consider taking a prenatal vitamin, especially folic acid. There are health benefits to folic acid supplements during pregnancy.

Basic conclusions: For non-pregnant persons without vitamin or mineral deficiencies, there is no evidence supporting the consumption of vitamin and mineral supplements in preventing cancer or cardiovascular (heart) health. Avoid beta carotene supplements (health harms) and vitamin E supplements.

What to do to maintain or improve health? Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans), seeds, and nuts. Get enough exercise or physical activity. Don't smoke. Maintain a healthy weight.

Doing these things will also improve the gut microbiome (the community of microbes living in the gut), which is so important for good health.

From Science Daily: Vitamins, supplements are a 'waste of money' for most Americans

Drawn to the allure of multivitamins and dietary supplements filling nutritional gaps in their diet, people in the U.S. in 2021 spent close to $50 billion on vitamins and dietary supplements. ...continue reading "Focus On Eating Healthy Food, Not Vitamin Supplements"

Eating berries frequently or daily has all sorts of health benefits. Two recent studies have focused on daily consumption of cranberries and found them to be beneficial for memory and neural functioning, and also for heart health.

Both studies had persons ingest whole cranberry powder (equivalent to 100 grams or 1 cup of whole cranberries) daily for 12 weeks (memory study) or 1 month (heart study).

While studies usually focus on just one type of berry to try to figure out how and what health benefits are occurring, there is no one berry a person should eat. Eat them all! Studies show they all offer something a little different, and all also have lots of fiber (very important for health!).

Also, eat real foods, not supplements. Again: studies do not find that there is one food or supplement that will prevent health problems or dementia. Eat more fruits, berries, vegetables, and cut back on ultra-processed foods. [See Medscape article below.]

From Medscape: A Cup of Cranberries a Day Tied to Better Memory

For healthy middle-aged and older adults, adding cranberries to the diet may help improve memory and brain function, in addition to lowering LDL cholesterol, new research suggests. ...continue reading "Good Reasons to Eat Cranberries"

The studies are coming fast and furious about how all daily physical activity has health benefits. Ordinary daily activities that cause a person to move, such as housework, vacuuming, washing dishes, gardening, walking, cooking, even showering - all count. (On the other hand, reading and computer use do not.)

A recent study by University of California researchers found a higher rate of heart disease, stroke, and death in older women who have less than 2 hours each day of "daily life movement" (daily physical activities) compared to those who have more than 4 hours per day. At the start of the study 5416 women (63 years or older, and without heart disease) wore an accelerometer to measure their daily movements for 1 week, and then their health was followed for more than 6 years.

The researchers found that higher amounts of daily life movement or "being up and about" were associated with a lower risk of major cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular death in older women. In other words - all movement (and not just exercise) counts towards cardiovascular disease prevention.

From Science Daily: Daily activities like washing dishes reduced heart disease risk in senior women

Seniors take note, running or brisk walking is not the only way to reduce the risk of heart disease. Simply being "up and about" performing routine activities, referred to as daily life movement, including housework, gardening, cooking and self-care activities like showering can significantly benefit cardiovascular health. ...continue reading "Ordinary Daily Activities Can Have Health Benefits"

Many people think that only exercises done in a gym, in exercise classes, or with exercise equipment can improve health. But no! Any physical activity is good, which means ordinary walks and household tasks or housework are beneficial. And the more frequently you do them, the more beneficial.

Studies show that physical activity from housework tasks (e.g., vacuuming) are associated with improved cognition, increased brain volume, and executive functioning of the brain in older adults, and with less frailty. Higher levels of physical activity are linked to a reduction in early death and heart diseases. Heavy household tasks (e.g. vacuuming, window cleaning, scrubbing, painting) have more benefits than light household tasks (e.g., dusting, ironing, doing laundry, washing dishes, cooking).

I know, I know - no one wants to get up and do such household tasks as vacuuming, but think of it as exercise class replacement.

A commentary (and video) by Dr. Stephan Martin discussing studies showing housework improving health and fitness. From Medscape: Housework Can Increase Brain Volume and Physical Fitness

Physical activity is a panacea: it protects against cardiovascular events such as myocardial infarction and stroke. Very active people are less likely to have type 2 diabetes, and the prevalence of dementia is apparently lower for them.  ...continue reading "Physical Activity of Housework Has Health Benefits"

Once again research finds health benefits from consumption of olive oil. A recent large study found that consuming more than 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil per day lowered the risk of death from heart disease, cancer, neurogenerative disease, and respiratory disease.

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers also found that increasing intake of olive oil in the diet (replacing margarine, butter, mayonnaise, and dairy fat with 2 1/4 teaspoons or 3/4 tablespoons olive oil) lowers risk of early death in general. The study participants were followed for 28 years, and diet was assessed every 4 years.

Earlier studies found that the best kind of olive oil to consume is extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Extra virgin olive oil is considered anti-inflammatory, and contains oleocanthal, which has anticancer effects. Health benefits are both if eaten as is (e.g., dunk bread, in salad dressings) or cooked (e.g. roast vegetables, in sauces, cooking foods) - and this result was also found in this recent study.

From Science Daily: Higher olive oil intake associated with lower risk of CVD mortality

Consuming more than 7 grams (>1/2 tablespoon) of olive oil per day is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality, cancer mortality, neurodegenerative disease mortality and respiratory disease mortality, according to a study publishing today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The study found that replacing about 10 grams/day of margarine, butter, mayonnaise and dairy fat with the equivalent amount of olive oil is associated with lower risk of mortality as well.  ...continue reading "Olive Oil Lowers the Risk of Death From Several Diseases"

Atrial fibrillation (a quivering or irregular heartbeat) can be very frightening for the person experiencing it. This heart arrhythmia disorder can be treated with medicines or surgical ablation, but new research suggests that it also can be improved after 6 months of exercise - about 3.5 hours per week.

Researchers at the University of Adelaide randomly assigned 120 patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) to either receive an exercise regimen for 6 months or no exercise regimen. All persons received "usual medical care". [Note: it is not clear what usual medical care involved.] After 6 months and at 12 months, the exercise group had a lower incidence of recurrent AF  and less severe AF symptoms. The exercise helped maintain normal heart rhythm.

The exercise group had supervised exercise once per week for 3 weeks, and then every other week for 3 months, as well as an exercise plan to follow at home. The goal was to increase aerobic exercise up to 3.5 hours per week. Supervised exercise session were higher intensity to increase cardiorespiratory fitness, and home based  exercise was of moderate intensity (e.g. walking, indoor cycling, swimming).

Bottom line: Exercising up to 3.5 hours per week might improve and control AF so that medications or surgery are not necessary.

From ScienceDaily: Exercise maintains normal heart rhythm in patients with atrial fibrillation

A six-month exercise programme helps maintain normal heart rhythm and reduces the severity of symptoms in patients with atrial fibrillation, according to late breaking research presented at ESC Congress 2021. ...continue reading "Atrial Fibrillation Can Be Improved With Exercise"

Over the years many studies have found that eating nuts is good for health and good for the gut microbiome. Now, a study that looked at the effect of adding pecans to the daily diet can be added to the list.

The Univ. of Georgia researchers found that adding about 1/4 cup (68 grams) pecans to the daily diet for 8 weeks improved cholesterol levels. A conclusion is that pecans can be viewed as good for the heart or "cardioprotective".

In the study they randomly assigned 52 adults who were at risk for heart disease (they were overweight or had hypercholesterolemia) to 1 of 3 groups, including a control group with no pecan intake. As one of the researchers (Dr. Cooper) said: "We had some people who actually went from having high cholesterol at the start of the study to no longer being in that category after the intervention.

After 8 weeks of eating 1/4 cup pecans daily, there were lower levels of fasting total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, TC/HDL cholesterol ratio, non-HDL cholesterol, and apolipoprotein B in the blood There were no changes in the control (no pecan) group.

By the way, do you remember years ago when doctors cautioned people about eating nuts?  That they were very high calorie and should be avoided? Hah! ... The view nowadays: Pecans are high in healthy fatty acids and fiber, both of which are linked to lower cholesterol. Eating nuts frequently also reduces the risk of several chronic diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and are beneficial for cognitive health.

From Science Daily: Pecan-enriched diet shown to reduce cholesterol

While the proper pronunciation of pecan remains a subject of debate, University of Georgia researchers have shown the tree nut can dramatically improve a person's cholesterol levels.  ...continue reading "Pecans Are A Healthy Addition to the Diet"

Recently there have been studies with conflicting results about the health benefits or harms from coffee consumption. Overall, it seems like moderate intake is OK and beneficial for adults, but too much may cause harm. And avoid caffeinated coffee if pregnant. Yesterday I posted about several recent studies finding health benefits from daily coffee consumption.

Coffee has anti-inflammatory effects, and contains more than a thousand chemical compounds. Over the years many studies found health benefits with regular and decaffeinated coffee, especially when a filter is used in the brewing process (e.g. drip coffee). But when the coffee is made by methods that don't filter the coffee (e.g. French press) the results may show harm, especially if large quantities are consumed daily.

The following are two recent studies finding that coffee consumption is associated with health benefits, and two studies finding potential harm from coffee consumption of over 6 cups a day. Note that whether the coffee is filtered or not may make a difference in results (the last 2 studies).

From (Jan. 11, 2021) Science Daily: Higher coffee intake may be linked to lower prostate cancer risk ...continue reading "Coffee Can Have Health Benefits, But Perhaps Harmful In Large Amounts"

The results of a large study adds more evidence to what we have long suspected: eating a Southern-style diet (fried foods and sugary drinks!) increases the risk for sudden cardiac death (up to 46% higher risk), while eating a plant-based or Mediterranean style diet appears to lower that risk.

Sudden cardiac death (SCD) occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating, and death occurs within one hour from the onset of symptoms. Heart disease (coronary artery disease) is the most common underlying cause of SCD (75 to 80% of cases), but it can also have other causes (e.g. heart failure, valve disease). Sudden cardiac death is quite common in the US - about 1 in every 7.5 deaths (or nearly 367,000 deaths in 2016).

Univ. of Alabama researchers looked at 5 dietary patterns that people ate over a 10 year period:  plant-based (Mediterranean), Southern, convenience food, alcohol & salad, and sweets. People generally eat foods from all 5 groups, but what is significant is the primary pattern - what the person mostly eats. The Southern diet is most prevalent in the southeastern US, which is also known as the "Stroke Belt", due to the higher stroke death rate there.

A Southern-style dietary pattern is characterized by fried foods, added fats,  eggs, organ meats (such as liver or giblets), processed meats (e.g. bacon, hotdogs, cold cuts), and sugar-sweetened beverages. A plant-based or Mediterranean dietary pattern is rich in fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, whole grains, legumes (beans), and fish, and low in processed meats, added fats, and fried foods.

The bottom line here is that what you eat has an effect on your health, including heart health. Best is a diet rich in plant-based foods - which also happens to be fiber rich and best for feeding beneficial microbes in the gut. Try to eat at least a minimum of 5 to 6 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, but more (up to 8 or 9 servings) might be even better.

From Science Daily: The Southern diet - fried foods and sugary drinks - may raise risk of sudden cardiac death

Regularly eating a Southern-style diet may increase the risk of sudden cardiac death, while routinely consuming a Mediterranean diet may reduce that risk, according to new research published today in the Journal of the American Heart Association, an open access journal of the American Heart Association.  ...continue reading "A Southern Style Diet Linked to Increased Risk of Sudden Cardiac Death"

It has long been known that eating oily fish (e.g. salmon, sardines) has health benefits for the heart. But it also looks like regularly eating sardines may be a good way to lower the risk of getting type 2 diabetes, as well as improving heart health.

In a study (conducted in Spain) 152 persons at risk for developing type 2 diabetes ("pre-diabetes") were randomly assigned to one of 2 groups for 1 year: Group 1 regularly ate sardines +  followed a diabetes preventive diet, or Group 2 ate the same diabetes preventive diet, but without sardines. All participants were 65 years or older.

They found that after 1 year, the sardine group had greater health improvements than the non-sardine group. Fewer in the sardine group were still in the prediabetes group, and fewer had developed type 2 diabetes. The sardine group also had decreased triglycerides (good), greater increases in healthy HDL cholesterol, reduced insulin resistance, and lower blood pressure, as compared to the non-sardine group.

The sardine group also had higher taurine levels in the blood, as well as increases in nutrients linked to health benefits, including omega-3 EPA and DHA, vitamin D, and fluorine. Taurine has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

What was their weekly consumption of sardines? They consumed 200 g of canned sardines in olive oil per week - eaten as 100 g servings twice per week. Which is a little less than eating two of the little 125 g cans of sardines in olive oil available at the grocery store. It was recommended that they eat the entire sardine, including bones, due to their rich content of calcium and vitamin D. [By the way, while the researchers don't discuss this - increased extra virgin olive oil consumption also has health benefits.]

Medscape article: Sardines Linked to Reduced Type 2 Diabetes Risk

Excerpts from Medical Xpress: Eating sardines regularly helps prevent type 2 diabetes

The health benefits of sardines and oily fish are widely known: their high levels of unsaturated fats help to regulate cholesterol levels and prevent the onset of cardiovascular diseases. However, the benefits don't end there.  ...continue reading "Eating Sardines Linked to Lower Diabetes Risk"