Food Matters Most but Supplements Provide Insurance

Recent studies are piling up that conclude supplements and multivitamins have no measurable impact on health.

Findings state popping capsules won’t fight memory less, cognitive decline, heart problems or extend your life. People that took supplements fared no better than those who swallowed a placebo.

Yet nutritional supplement continue to be multibillion-dollar industry with this evidence having seemingly little impact on sales. Beginning in 1994 consumer interest in supplements skyrocketed and it’s been stable ever since.

There’s something in our nature as humans that wants to believe we are in full control of our destiny, and a big part of that is our health. In truth outside of basic nutrition, exercise, and living a healthy lifestyle (sans drugs and heavy drinking), our ability to overcome genetics and universal laws of aging are modest or perhaps non-existent at present.

So are all supplements really a waste of time and money?

That extra skip in your step that comes with good health isn’t something we can easily measure. How well we feel depends on so many factors and processes in the body that it’s not feasible to analyze something so subjective. And yet being full of energy, and having a strong spark for life is what we all yearn for.

Proponents of supplements explain its benefits to be like that of an insurance policy. Sure, it would be better if we eat an ideal diet with the perfect medley of nutrients, but when everything goes wrong there are bottles in our kitchen cupboards to balance any deficiencies. Modern diets are notorious for being made up of too many foods containing empty calories. So many fear that they are not getting their daily allowance of vitamins and minerals.

In an article titled “The Supplement Paradox: Negligible Benefits, Robust Consumption” accompanying a new report, Dr. Pieter A. Cohen argued that “supplements are essential to treat vitamin and mineral deficiencies” and that certain combinations of nutrients can help some medical conditions, like age-related macular degeneration. He concluded, however, “for the majority of adults, supplements likely provide little, if any, benefit.”

So to take the best approach our doctor tests us for any deficiencies, then after examining the results we take only vitamins and minerals we’re deficient in.

Due to busy lifestyles and a possibly moving target depending on ongoing eating habits it seems alluring to most to take the shotgun approach. Go with a multivitamin even though many of its components will be wasted to gain what the body needs. After all, it’s only in extreme cases that an overabundance can harm us. So the only real downside here is the cost that comes with peace of mind, again much like insurance.

This may change many consumers skewed thinking regarding daily allowance figures printed on the side of multivitamins. Blasting ourselves with mega doses of vitamins is an exercise in futility, wastefulness and may also work our kidneys harder than necessarily to filter out the excess. Due to the mega-dosing fad that started in the 80s we’re still seeing this on the label of many supplements. It’s hard to convince people more isn’t always better.

If you opt to take a multivitamin tread lightly and keep in mind your interests differ from that of the supplement manufacturer that wants you to consume heavily. Likely all you need is a little boost as recommended on Quackwatch by doctor Stephen Barrett. Taking that daily multivitamin every other day will not only cut ongoing costs in half but is a good path to getting enough vitamins without overdoing it.

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Photo: Teresa Stanton