Americans take supplements for a variety of reasons, all with the hopes of improving their health. There are pills on the market that claim to help with everything from allergies and weight loss to cancer and heart disease. The question is whether they actually work. In an editorial published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, “Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements,” it is asserted that research shows that no improvements are made in heart health, cancer, or memory loss while taking supplements. Studies show that supplements are ineffective and fail to produce positive results.
According to the CDC, people in the United States use more supplements now than in the past. Usage has risen from 40% in 1993-1994 to 50% in 2003-2006. Americans appear to be buying into the hype that over-the-counter pills can help with a variety of ailments and can fill the void of vital nutrients in their diets, when in reality supplements may be ineffective.
A common misconception is that herbal, organic, or natural pills are better and safer than prescription medicine. They can still interfere with other medicines, though, and they may contain ingredients that aren’t listed on the label because they are not regulated by the FDA. The truth is, users don’t really know what they are getting in these bottles. Some supplements actually include prescription drugs, including those that have been banned or considered dangerous, and that can cause drug interactions.
For example, green tea, garlic, and ginseng can interfere with blood thinners and diabetic drugs. Echinacea can interfere with allergy, asthma, and anti-anxiety drugs. St. John’s Wort may affect drugs that are intended for treating cancer and high cholesterol. These are just a small sample of the possible drug interactions resulting from supplement use. It is always a good idea to discuss prescription drugs and supplement usage with a physician.
Some research suggests that consumers are fooled into believing that expensive supplements are more potent and can help boost their health. Not only might they be a waste of money, but these studies show that they are ineffective at improving health. The real problem, as suggested in this research, lies with nutritional deficiencies from a poor diet. The answer isn’t a miracle cure in a bottle, but a sensible diet that’s high in vitamins and minerals. The first step is to remove empty calories from the diet and include more fruits and vegetables.
Overdosing on vitamins and minerals is another concern. Too much vitamin A can lead to liver damage, vitamin D causes bone pain and muscle problems, vitamin E can cause bleeding issues and iron can cause damage to the liver. Too much of a good thing isn’t necessarily a good thing. It is necessary to take into account how many vitamins are coming from a person’s diet in addition to those taken in pill form. It’s important not to exceed the 100% daily recommendations.
Recent research suggests that Americans have been trained to believe that vitamin and mineral supplements are the answer for all of their ailments. Recent studies show, however, that supplements may be ineffective. Similar to the diet industry, manufacturers of supplements may be profiting from people who are on the hunt for a miracle pill to cure their ailments. Doing a little research, including consulting a primary care physician, before taking supplements may not only save people money but prevent additional health problems as well.
By Tracy Rose