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Debunking the Hype on Supplements

Debunking the Hype on Supplements

Some of us have been told to take our vitamins from an early age, potentially continuing the daily habit up to adulthood. And with the current headlines about vitamins and supplements like Vitamin D, probiotics and CoQ10, it appears their benefits for the human body are obvious. Or are they?

Prebiotics, probiotics, and turmeric capsules. The amount of available supplements are plentiful and varied, and if you ever needed help in selecting the right one for your specific needs, it only takes a trip to the nearest vitamin store or a stop on the Internet to gain assistance. But for all of the easy access and consistent positive advertising, it appears we might have been conned about the pros of dietary and vitamin supplements.  

A recent study found in the National Library of Medicine shows vitamin and mineral supplementation having “little to no benefit in preventing cancer, cardiovascular disease, and death, with the exception of a small benefit for cancer incidence with multivitamin use.” In addition, the findings uncovered beta carotene (with/without Vitamin A) in vitamin and mineral supplementation leading to “an increased risk of lung cancer and other harmful outcomes in persons at high risk of lung cancer.” A lower “incidence of any cancer” was attributed to multivitamin use; however, vitamins in supplement form including Vitamin A, E, and C, and calcium were associated with a higher risk of hip fracture (Vitamin A), hemorrhagic stroke (Vitamin E) and kidney stones (Vitamin C and calcium).

This study is one of many debunking the oft-expressed sentiments within the health and wellness industry overall about the reported pros of health supplements. Dating back to 2013, a study from the Annals of Internal Medicine titled “Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements,” showed there “was no clear evidence of a beneficial effect of supplements on all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, or cancer.” This conclusion came after reviewing the effects of three trials of multivitamin supplements and 24 trials of single/paired vitamins given to more than 400,000 participants.  

So should we throw out our Athletic Greens travel packs and Care/of multivitamins right away? Not exactly. According to some clinicians and educators, it’s the targeted demographic groups and amount of taking supplements and dietary vitamins that should be taken into consideration. Ohio State University’s Assistant Professor of Human Nutrition, Dr. Rachel Kopec, told Medical News Today one of the “biggest misconceptions” about supplements derive from the way in which they are produced and ingested. “There is a risk for iron oxidizing Vitamin A once dissolved in the stomach,” she said. Kopec also pointed out our bodies’ insufficiency to break down large doses of supplements and vitamins.  

University of Southampton’s Professor of Nutritional Immunology, Dr. Phillip Calder, added that supplements should be considered as just that to one’s diet. “Multivitamin supplements are not a replacement for eating a healthy diet and cannot be used to mitigate the effects of an unhealthy diet. They can be used to make up nutrient gaps if a person’s diet does not fully meet their requirements, but dietary strategies should come first,” Calder stated. 

Those with micronutrient deficiencies, older adults, vegetarians, vegans, those who are pregnant, and individuals with conditions such as celiac disease and iron deficiency anemia were noted as persons who may best benefit from taking multivitamins on a daily basis. But the basics such as a healthy, well-rounded diet coupled with adequate sleep, exercise, no smoking, “avoiding too much alcohol,” avoidance of stress should be of the utmost importance,” declared Professor Edward Giovannucci (Nutrition and Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Multivitamins would be less helpful for people with a very good lifestyle, except possibly for extra Vitamin D,” Dr. Giovannucci added.

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With the direct-to-consumer vitamin supplement company model seemingly eclipsing health retailers such as GNC and Vitamin Shoppe coupled with the aforementioned studies, the future popularity of vitamin supplementation appears to truly rest in the hands of consumers.

Photo by Leohoho on Unsplash

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