(not) supplements

"The supplements industry, which includes everything from vitamins and herbal supplements to weight loss pills, has grown into a more than $30 billion industry" (PBS). “As many as 70 percent of the population is taking supplements, mostly vitamins, convinced that pills will make them healthier” (The New York Times).

In the latter half of the last century the use of multivitamins and other dietary supplements has suddenly become very popular. According to a Gallup survey, 50% of Americans regularly take a type vitamin or mineral supplement. Interestingly, the FDA (US. Food and Drug Administration) is not authorized to assess dietary supplements before they are sold. It is the manufacturers responsibility to ensure that their product is safe and/or effective. Even if the product contains a new/unknown ingredient, the manufacturer must only notify the FDA before marketing it, but they do not need approval by the FDA. In other words, it is up to the manufacturer to make sure their product is safe. The FDA can only act AFTER a product is marketed and found to be unsafe or mislabeled. 

If you read some of the mainstream information about dietary supplements provided by government agencies such as the NIH, they state that “If you don’t eat a nutritious variety of foods, some supplements might help you get adequate amounts of essential nutrients. However, supplements can’t take the place of the variety of foods that are important to a healthy diet.” So, doesn’t this basically tell us that we should be eating real, nutritious, whole foods to get our vitamins and minerals, rather than popping pills? 

The supplement industry has grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry, because people don’t want to give up their bad eating habits and are too lazy to give up their unhealthy lifestyles. Simply taking some pills to become healthier sounds like the perfect solution. It doesn’t require any “annoying” changes such as changing your diet or becoming more active. The truth is, there are NO magic pills that will suddenly make you healthier!

Obviously, vitamins such as vitamin C and minerals such as calcium are necessary in a healthy diet. But, “the triumph of health lies not in the individual nutrients, but in the whole foods that contain those nutrients. In a bowl of spinach salad, for example, we have fiber, antioxidants, and countless other nutrients that are orchestrating a wondrous symphony of health as they work in concert within our bodies” (Campbell & Campbell, 94). Today people are concerned about not meeting necessary or recommended intake of certain nutrients, but what we should be worried about is overdosing. In addition to our everyday foods such as cereals and milk being fortified, people take vitamin pills. According to researchers, many of the popular supplements contain dangerous doses. Dr. Caballero, a member of the Food and Nutrition Board at the National Academy of Science and the director of the Center for Human Nutrition at Johns Hopkins University, said that for supplements such as vitamin A “the difference between the recommended dose and the dose that could lead to bad outcomes like osteoporosis was not large” (The New York Times). Multiple large studies show that people with high levels of vitamin A have a greater risk of osteoporosis. 

Vitamin C and E supplements are the most commonly taken supplements, although they are the least needed. For a long time, scientists thought that certain vitamin supplementation could help prevent diseases such as cancer and heart disease, but thorough studies show no such effect. In fact, the exact opposite seems to be the case. “Vitamin E supplements can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and studies of vitamin C supplements consistently failed to show that it had any beneficial effects” (The New York Times).

If you are eating the right food, there is no reason to worry about lacking certain vitamins or minerals. Humans have been living a healthy life without supplements for decades. Multiple studies not only show that some supplements are ineffective, but that they can also be dangerous. If you want to do yourself a favor, eat a variety of natural whole foods and let your body do the rest. 


Sources Cited:

Campbell, T. Colin, and Thomas M. Campbell. The China Study. BenBella, 2016. Print.

Kolata, Gina. "Vitamins: More May Be Too Many." The New York Times. The New York Times, 28 Apr. 2003. Web. 20 Aug. 2017.

Swift, Art. "Half of Americans Take Vitamins Regularly." Gallup.com. Gallup, 19 Dec. 2013. Web. 20 Aug. 2017.

BOGHANI, PRIYANKA. "Can Regulators Keep Up with the Supplements Industry?" PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, 19 Jan. 2016. Web. 20 Aug. 2017.

Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "Information for Consumers - Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know." U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, 04 May 2017. Web. 20 Aug. 2017.

National Institute of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. "Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know." NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 17 June 2011. Web. 20 Aug. 2017.