Health Benefits of Nutritional Supplements

The importance of nutrition for human health has long been known. Prior to 1960, interest in this field focused mainly on the prevention of acute nutrient deficiency diseases, such as scurvy, rickets, and pellagra. Some 50 essential nutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, cofactors, essential amino acids, and essential fatty acids) were identified. Recommended daily intakes for those nutrients were also developed. The recommendations proved valuable in eliminating acute nutrient deficiency diseases.

During the past decades, focus has shifted to the role of diet and nutrition in long-term health. Nutrition has shown to play a role in the long-term health of heart, bones, joints, eyes, nervous system, and immune system.

Unfortunately, these associations are difficult to study, in part because of the timeframes involved. Many of these interactions take decades (or lifetimes) to study. It is very difficult to conduct research spanning more than several years in length. Despite this, advances in epidemiological and clinical research have uncovered a great deal of information about the impact of diet and nutrient intakes on long-term health.

In recent years, researchers have paid more attention to nutritional supplements as possible components of a healthy diet. These studies have used a wide variety of research methods and have produced positive and negative results. Some supplementation has become an accepted part of modern healthcare practices. This includes, for example, the role of calcium and vitamin D supplements in maintaining healthy bone density and the role of folic acid supplements in preventing certain birth defects. In other areas (like the role of antioxidant supplementation in heart health), results have been less consistent, and firm conclusions remain controversial.

The following is a list of peer-reviewed research examining possible health benefits of nutritional supplements and functional foods. This list is not exhaustive. Papers have been selected on the basis of scientific merit and relevance to the field—regardless of whether positive or negative results were obtained. This list provides you with a good cross-section of scientific literature, with hopes of contributing to a better understanding of the current state of nutritional research.

For convenience, references have been sorted by health issue:

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Cardiovascular Health

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  36. Dieber-Rotheneder M, Puhl H, Waeg G, Striegl G, Esterbauer H. Effect of oral supplementation with d-alphatocopherol on the vitamin E content of human density lipoproteins and resistance to oxidation. 1991. J Lipid Res 32(8):1325-32.
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  52. Fotherby MD, Williams JC, Forster LA, Craner P, Ferns GA. Effect of vitamin C on ambulatory blood pressure and plasma lipids in older persons. 2000. J Hypertens 18(4):411-5.
  53. Freedman JE, Parker C, Li L, Perlman JA, Frei B, Ivanov V, Deak LR, Iafrati MD, Folts JD. Select flavonoids and whole juice from purple grapes inhibit platelet function and enhance nitric oxide release. 2001. Circulation 103:2792-8.
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  60. Goodfellow J, Bellamy MF, Ramsey MW, Jones CJH, Lewis MJ. Dietary supplementation with marine omega-3 fatty acids improve systemic large artery endothelial function in subjects with hypercholesterolemia. 2000. J Am Coll Cardiol 35(2):265-70.
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  80. Kawano Y, Matsuoka H, Takishita S, Omae T. Effects of magnesium supplementation in hypertensive patients: assessment by office, home, and ambulatory blood pressures. 1998. Hypertension 32(2):260-5.
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  82. Kelley DS, Siegel D, Vemuri M, Mackey BE. Docosahexaenoic acid supplementation improves fasting and postprandial lipid profiles in hypertriglyceridemic men. 2007. Am J Clin Nutr 86:324-33.
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  87. Kugiyama K, Motoyama T, Doi H, Kawano H, Hirai N, Soejima H, Miyao Y, Takazoe K, Moriyama Y, Mizuno Y, Tsunoda R, Ogawa H, Sakamoto T, Sugiyama S, Yasue H. Improvement of endothelial vasomotor dysfunction by treatment with alpha-tocopherol in patients with high remnant lipoproteins levels. 1999. J Am Coll Cardiol 33:1512-8.
  88. Kushi LH, Folsom AR, Prineas RJ, Mink PJ, Wu Y, Bostick RM. Dietary antioxidant vitamins and death from coronary heart disease in postmenopausal women. 1996. N Engl J Med 334(18):1156-62.
  89. Langsjoen PH, Langsjoen AM. Overview of the use of CoQ10 in cardiovascular disease. 1999. BioFactors 9:273-84.
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  91. Lee BJ, Huang MC, Chung LJ, Cheng CH, Lin KL, Su KH, Huang YC. Folic acid and vitamin B12 are more effective than vitamin B6 in lowering fasting plasma homocysteine concentration in patients with coronary artery disease. 2004. Eur J Clin Nutr 58(3):481-7.
  92. Lee JH, O’Keefe JH, Bell D, Hensrud DD, Holick MF. Vitamin D deficiency an important, common, and easily treatable cardiovascular risk factor?. 2008. J Am Coll Cardiol 52(24):1949-56.
  93. Leppala JM, Virtamo J, Fogelholm R, Albanes D, Heinonen OP. Different risk factors for different stroke subtypes: association of blood pressure, cholesterol, and antioxidants. 1999. Stroke 30(12):2535-40.
  94. Leppala JM, Virtamo J, Fogelholm R, Albanes D, Taylor PR, Heinonen OP. Vitamin E and beta carotene supplementation in high risk for stroke: a subgroup analysis of the Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention Study. 2000. Arch Neurol 57(10):1503-9.
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  96. Levy AP, Friedenberg P, Lotan R, Ouyang P, Tripputi M, Higginson L, Cobb FR, Tardif JC, Bittner V, Howard BV. The effect of vitamin therapy on the progression of coronary artery atherosclerosis varies by haptoglobin type in postmenopausal women. 2004. Diabetes Care 27(4):925-30.
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  109. Morris, CD, Carson, S. Routine vitamin supplementation to prevent cardiovascular disease: a summary of the evidence for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. 2003. Ann Intern Med 139:56-70.
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  113. Mottram P, Shige H, Nestel P. Vitamin E improves arterial compliance in middle-aged men and women. 1999. Atherosclerosis 145(2):399-404.
  114. Nallamothu BK, Fendrick AM, Rubenfire M, Saint S, Bandekar RR, Omenn GS. Potential clinical and economic effects of homocyst(e)ine lowering. 2000. Arch Intern Med 160(22):3406-12.
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  116. Neunteufl T, Kostner K, Katzenschlager R, Zehetgruber M, Maurer G, Weidinger F. Additional benefit of vitamin E supplementation to simvastatin therapy on vasoreactivity of the brachial artery of hypercholesterolemic men. 1998. J Am Coll Cardiol 32(3):711-6.
  117. Neunteufl T, Priglinger U, Heher S, Zehetgruber M, Soregi G, Lehr S, Huber K, Maurer G, Weidinger F, Kostner K. Effects of vitamin E on chronic and acute endothelial dysfunction in smokers. 2000. J Am Coll Cardiol 35:277-83.
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