Is An “Everything But the Kitchen Sink” Approach A Good Idea?

By Suzanne W. Dixon, MPH, MS, RD
The Holy Grail of Health

Blame it on our youth-obsessed culture. People just don’t like to grow old. Nobody wants to look old. We certainly don’t want to feel old. This has led to a blockbuster category of nutritional supplements, exercise programs, potions, lotions, and more. This category is called “anti-aging."

Can anything really stop or undo the effects of aging? Unfortunately, no. But that doesn’t stop us from trying to discover the fountain of youth.

Essentially Dimming Zestful Living

The latest foray into anti-aging comes from researchers in Canada and China. Scientists from the two countries collaborated to study the anti-aging effects of a multi-ingredient dietary supplement. They hoped to address what they called “essentially dimming zestful living” that occurs with age.

The researchers studied 40 mice. Half of the mice were given the dietary supplement and half were not. The scientists studied how the mice aged over approximately 2 years. Mice age faster than humans. A 1-year old mouse is similar, in age, to a 20-year old human. A 2-year old mouse is more like a 50-year old human.

The researchers reported that the supplemented mice showed fewer signs of aging. For example, they didn’t decrease their physical movements over time. A voluntary decrease in physical activity is a common sign of aging. In contrast, the unsupplemented mice decreased activity by about 50% by the study’s conclusion.

The supplemented mice also showed less damage that is typical of cellular aging. They had less oxidation damage in their cells. Think of oxidation as rusting. But instead of causing damage to metal in the environment, oxidation in the body damages your cells.

Excess oxidation is believed to contribute to the major diseases that plague us today. This includes heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, hypertension, arthritis, chronic pain, and more.

The supplemented mice also had “younger” brain chemistry. Experts hope that this would translate into better brain health with age. For example, if human brains were to age more slowly, or not at all, diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s would not occur.

The Magical Supplement?

So what is in the magical supplement? Brace yourself. The list is long. The supplement contained 30 ingredients:

Vitamins: B1, B6, B12, folic acid, niacin, C, D, and E

Minerals: Magnesium, selenium, potassium, manganese, and chromium picolinate

Phytonutrients: Beta-carotene, rutin, and bioflavonoids

Herbs: Ginko biloba, ginseng, ginger root extract, and garlic

Other Nutrients: L-Glutathione, acetyl L-carnitine, alpha-lipoic acid, N-acetyl cysteine, CoQ10

Extracts: Green tea extract

Fats: Cod liver oil and flax seed oil

Hormones: Melatonin

Over-the-Counter Drugs: acetylsalicylic acid, also known as aspirin

I would say that this is pretty much an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to dietary supplementation. Actually, this one seems to include the kitchen sink too!

Of Mice and Men

Should you take this list, head to the health food store, and load up your cart? Not so fast. As many of you already know, results in mice do not guarantee a similar outcome in humans. For medical studies, mice are similar to humans, but they are not humans.

Even famed cancer researcher Judah Folkman once pointed out that all he knew for sure was, “if you have cancer and you are a mouse, we can take good care of you.” It bears noting that the drugs Dr. Folkman was speaking about when he made this comment 12 years ago did cure cancer in mice. They have not cured cancer in humans.

Another thing to consider is your wallet. To create your own “cocktail” of nutrients similar to what was used in the mouse study, you’d have to part with some major cash. Another concern is that the FDA, the organization that polices dietary supplements and their claims, is very short-handed. They cannot always enforce dietary supplement regulations consistently. This means that it can be difficult to know that you’re getting what you pay for.

Getting the Most for the Least

At this point, many readers may have concluded that I’m anti-supplement. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many of the ingredients in the mouse supplement have research to back their benefits for certain conditions and for certain people.

Fish oil supplements reduce the risk of heart attack and heart arrhythmias. Melatonin is being studied for it’s anti-cancer activity in humans. CoQ10 supplements appear to be a valuable addition for people taking cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins. Statins lower CoQ10 levels in the body. Daily aspirin is prescribed for many people to lower heart disease risk.

But I stop short of the “kitchen sink approach.” Using a few select supplements that are right for you, based on your health concerns, makes sense. Taking a pile of pills every day does not.

To get more for your money and your health, transfer the “kitchen sink approach” to your food choices. With food, you can spend a fraction of what you’d spend on 30+ dietary supplements per day. And better yet? Research actually does support this approach!

Think about squeezing plants in every chance you get. Berries and oatmeal for breakfast. Yogurt with nuts and raisins for a snack. A sandwich piled high with veggies and hummus as a sandwich spread, plus an apple with a smear of natural peanut butter. A dinner of a vegetable-based stir-fry. You get the picture.

No Free Lunch

We all want the “free lunch.” Wouldn’t it be nice if we could eat whatever we wanted and pop a pill to stay healthy? It doesn’t work that way. Even the 30+ ingredients in the mouse supplement fall far short of what a healthy, plant-based diet will give you.

If I listed all of the nutrients found in a peach, an apple, or a leaf of kale, you’d still be reading by this time tomorrow! Quite simply, there is no way to gain the benefits of a healthy diet, without eating a healthy diet. Period.

But don’t do it for your health. Focus on a better diet because it feels darn good. Good food gives you good energy and a spring in your step. And there’s nothing better than sharing good food with good friends and family.

Sharing a wonderfully tasty, healthy, homemade meal is one of the great joys in life. It can nourish your body, but more importantly, it will nourish your soul!

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Author's Bio: 

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, is an internationally recognized expert in nutrition, chronic disease, cancer, health and wellness as well as the Executive Editor of Nutrition Intelligence Report, a free natural health and nutrition newsletter. For more information, past issues or to sign up for a free subscription, visit