Dietary supplements questioned

pillsThe best the experts can say is that the most commonly consumed vitamin and mineral supplements don’t cause any harm. That is as they barely provide any consistent health benefits at all. Still in the latest Australian diet survey almost a third of the participants reported that they had taken at least one dietary supplement on the survey day. Are we so gullible?

Or rather, some of you must be gullible. I haven’t taken any dietary supplements since my mum forced me to swallow a daily spoon of cod liver oil many, many years ago.

Our crusade

Thus we’ve been on a crusade now for some time to have people understand that it is money wasted to be buying most dietary supplements. And we have repeatedly directed an evil eye towards food supplements on this blog site, being it herbal supplements or micronutrients.

Sure, in cases where specific vitamin or mineral deficiencies have been identified by healthcare providers, they might be treated by taking an appropriate dietary supplement. Or, probably even better, diet adjustments to get the right nutritional balance from the food and drink consumed.

But you don’t have to take my word for it, just listen to the experts.

Further confirmation

publicationsThe negative view of dietary supplements was further confirmed by a recent systematic review of 179 existing scientific studies covering single randomized control trials published in English from January 2012 to October 2017. The supplements examined included vitamins A, B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folic acid), C, D, E, beta-carotene, and the minerals calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and selenium. Multivitamins were defined as including most of these vitamins and minerals.

In studies testing the four common supplements of multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium and vitamin C, there was no reduction in incidence of heart disease, stroke or premature death. This means there was no benefit from taking them, but also no harm.

They also evaluated less common supplements that did have some positive impacts on early death, heart disease and stroke. Here they found folic acid supplements showed a reduction in heart disease and stroke.

While a small benefit for taking folic acid was found, researchers also found some adverse effects from supplementation. Among those taking statin medication to lower blood cholesterol, slow or extended release vitamin B3 (niacin) increased the risk of early death by 10 per cent.

For studies testing “antioxidant” supplements, there was a marginally significant increased risk of early death.

Surprised scientists

The authors actually expressed surprise to find so few positive effects of the most common supplements consumed. Therefore they concluded that in the absence of significant positive data — apart from folic acid’s potential reduction in the risk of stroke and heart disease — it’s most beneficial to rely on a healthy diet to get your fill of vitamins and minerals.

diet2_(Masahiro_Ihara)So far, no research on supplements has shown us anything better than healthy servings of less processed plant foods including vegetables, fruits and nuts.

Most people in Western countries don’t have an optimal diet. This review shows taking supplements as an “insurance policy” against poor dietary habits does not work. If it did, there would have been a reduction in early deaths.

Eat whole foods

Taking supplements is very different from eating whole foods. Complications or health problems due to nutrient intakes are virtually always due to taking supplements, not eating foods. When you concentrate on one vitamin, mineral or nutrient in a supplement, you miss out on the other phytonutrients found in plant foods that contribute to overall health.

Convinced now? Thought so.

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