Posts Tagged ‘Health Effects’
Men who take vitamin C supplements could develop kidney stones. Calcium supplements may increase the risk of heart disease and even death. There is no scientifically proven evidence that multivitamins improve people’s health. These are just a few headlines that lately appeared in the press. Behind those stories are a series of clinical studies that question a widespread habit among Americans, namely to add one or more daily supplements to their diet to ensure their nutritional needs are covered.
Nearly half of American adults use supplements regularly, generating over $30 billion a year in sales, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). A new study tried to find out why so many people put their trust in supplements despite of much uncertainty that they have any significant health effects.
“People have very strong beliefs about these products and I don’t know where they are getting their information,” said Dr. Regan Bailey, a nutritional epidemiologist at NIH and lead author of the study report, in an interview with HealthDay. “The majority of scientific data available does not support the role of dietary supplements for improving health or preventing of disease.”
What’s even more puzzling is that many supplement users don’t think of supplements as related to nutrition but rather to overall health. It’s almost like a lifestyle issue, according to the study. Typical users are older, eat well, are physically active, manage their weight, don’t smoke, and usually have a higher educational and social status than non-users. They consider themselves to be in very good or excellent health, and they also have health insurance.
Multi-vitamin-mineral products are among the most popular choices, followed by calcium and fish oil supplements. Many older women use calcium supplements for bone health. Some believe that vitamins are good for heart health or to lower cholesterol levels. Others think certain vitamins help preserve their eyesight.
The popularity of supplements has not been generated by the medical community. “Less than a quarter of supplements used by adults were recommended by a physician or health care provider,” said Dr. Bailey.
There may also be safety concerns. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates dietary supplements under a different set of regulations than conventional foods and prescription drugs. Under current laws, the responsibility for the safety of supplements lies with the manufacturers. The FDA can only take action against unsafe products after they have been put on the market. Generally, manufacturers of supplements do not need to have their products approved by the agency.
Because of dietary deficiencies many Americans suffer from due to poor eating habits, I still would recommend taking a daily multi-vitamin-mineral supplement from reputable sources. However, it is crucial that users are aware of potential risks, i.e. overdosing. While it is unlikely for a healthy person to overdose on water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C and B-complex, since excessive amounts get eliminated in the urine, the fat-soluble varieties like vitamins A, D, E and K are stored in fat cells and can build up to toxic levels. So can a number of minerals. Some supplements can also interfere with certain medications and cause metabolic problems.
Most importantly, taking supplements should never be considered as a substitute for a healthy diet. Essential nutrients from real foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, dairy products and whole-grains cannot easily be provided by a few pills. Those are just – well, supplements.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.