The importance of supplements and vitamins cannot be overstated; in a sense, they are a cheat code that can help you shore up what you’re missing from your everyday diet. This is in no way intended to be a substitute for eating a balanced diet, of course – but realistically, the rat-race of modern life often means you may not be getting all of the nutrients you need from meals.
To this end, the numbers are unmistakable as pertains to the importance of supplements and vitamins in everyday life: nearly 60% of American adults over the age of 20 imbibe dietary supplements. These numbers are from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and they further go on to give the valuation of the supplement industry at over $30 billion annually.
The data shows correlations between frequency of supplement usage and higher education and income levels; moreover, there’s correlative data showing that the same people also tend to exercise more, value a healthy diet and healthier lifestyle. Some of the most preferred dietary supplements include melatonin (which is quite understandable because so many Americans suffer from insomnia and sleep deprivation), fish oils for their omega-3 fatty acids and omega-six fatty acids, fiber supplements and general, full-spectrum multivitamins.
This data concludes that supplements probably don’t do too much to improve your health if you are already healthy and doing the necessary things to maintain that.
As more studies come out in support of this, nutrition experts have petitioned for greater federal regulation of the supplement industry – with the end goal being safety and effectiveness of the ones being promoted. This certainly does not mean that supplements shouldn’t be used; just that consumers should be wary of overblown claims, and perform due diligence when actively seeking to purchase dietary supplements.
The New England Journal of Medicine published a 2015 study which showed that there were 23,000 emergency room visits in the US alone every year for improper use of dietary supplements. Most of these involved energy products and weight loss supplements; the adverse effects tended to be cardiovascular in nature.
The Utility of Supplements
The last thing you should get from this article is that minerals and vitamins supplements are useful – they most certainly can be in the right situations, and for many people. Medical science and observation has shown that micronutrients, vitamins and minerals are absolutely essential to the proper functioning of all of the body’s processes; they are undoubtedly an essential aspect of a balanced diet.
You’ve probably noticed, especially if you live in the US, that many foods are already fortified with certain popular minerals and vitamins and nutrients. Take for example milk: vitamin D is a popular fortification for this dairy product. Due to the widespread fortification of so many packaged foods, it’s possible that the majority of people simply won’t find too much use from taking additional supplements. It all boils down to the quality of your diet in the first place – although health is also another dimension to be considered.
There are, however, limits to the utility of mineral supplements and vitamins in the case of certain potent diseases. In an article published in the 2020 edition of the medical magazine BMJ, professor Zhang highlighted the fact that minerals and vitamins, despite the nutritional value to poor diets, are not found to be effective in the prevention of cancer or diseases of the cardiovascular system.
Even in the case of popular botanicals like ginkgo biloba and echinacea, the evidence of their utility is far from clear. Although there is some knowledge in regards to their moderately positive effects as nutritional supplements, there are too many instances of weak trial results to warrant the fantastic claims often made by manufacturers.
It’s important to understand how companies exaggerate the abilities of their dietary supplements. Many of these dietary supplement products are promoted to have benefits for humans that have only ever been observed in animal trials. This tends to cause a lot of confusion on the supplement market, as people try to navigate which ones work and which ones don’t work as advertised. Of course, in a consumer economy there’s a lot of commercial pressure involved in the elevated promotional style. Ultimately, the manner in which supplements are advertised and promoted is dependent on the specific terms of regulation by the FDA.
Informed Perusal of the Supplement Aisle
First and foremost, when you are deciding on which supplements to use, you should be wary of exorbitant claims made by manufacturers. This is no different than those late-night infomercials and their proclamations that they can make you wealthy if you’re willing to work just three hours a day after buying their program. For variety of reasons, such claims are unlikely; furthermore, there could be a problem with the dosage because some manufacturers will often pack more than the FDA’s daily recommended value for particular mineral, vitamin and nutrient. Most professional dietitians and nutritionists strongly suggest trying get most of what you need from a balanced diet.
Additionally, there’s always a possibility that nutritional supplements adversely interact with medications you may be taking. This is why you should always speak with your primary physician before you embark on a supplement-taking binge. Even if you’re not specifically on any medication currently, if you are a pregnant/breast-feeding woman, or a man or woman undergoing surgery, you should abstain from taking supplements until you speak with the doctor. As shown in previous studies, dietary supplements have not been reliably effective during cancer treatments and cardiovascular disease.
You should strongly consider restricting your supplement purchases to the companies that have taken the time to obtain official certifications from places such as NSF international or USP. These are widely-accepted designations that note products of high quality. Generally, people should opt for supplements that contain only one ingredient – unless they are specifically multivitamins. You want to avoid non-multivitamins that contain a host of different ingredients.
Furthermore, you should keep a watchful eye on the types of supplements that are susceptible to combining ingredients that are not listed on the package. Extensive research and experience shows that muscle builders, weight loss supplements and libido enhancers sometimes contain undisclosed pharmaceutical drugs. Sometimes, the synthetic chemicals that these contain are even illegal. Not surprisingly, the listed class of supplements are the ones that can lead people to the emergency room when taken at very high doses.
If you’d like more information, check out highly-regarded cure ration resources like the National Institutes of Health and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center websites for compiler ration of minerals, vitamins, nutrients and botanicals so that you can find out what they do, as well as information on admixtures.
Settling On a Decision
In support of the information given in this review, it’s important to consider that scientific evidence exists in a state of perpetual evolution. As more and more funding is required for research into nutritional supplements, expect new information on if it is and dosages to emerge. A wise conclusion, however, is that no matter what research eventually emerges, eating a balanced diet and embracing a healthy lifestyle will always be superior to any amount of supplementation.
There are certain ways that calories interact with the nutrients that are beneficial to the human body; obviously, supplements lack calories completely. Human beings cannot subsist on supplements, which is why most supplements recommend that they be taken with food.
You have to avoid falling into the trap that supplements can perform wonders for your health in the absence of a balanced diet. The best results possible would come with having a healthy lifestyle that reduces stress, and eating foods that aid your body’s natural processes.
A Summation of The Properties of Popular Supplements
The Following Are Useful Supplements
Vitamin D and calcium – particularly for post-menopausal women: Because women in general can be prone to osteoporosis, which is bone loss, there is some certifiable medical evidence that taking supplements which are rich in vitamin D and calcium actually helps towards the preservation of existing skeletal structure. Basically, it staves off bone loss.
Supplemental fiber: The benefits of fiber have been known since antiquity, and this bowel movement-facilitating nutrient confers a host of benefits on the cardiovascular system. In fact, studies have shown that fiber helps in the prevention of heart disease. You can obtain supplemental fiber from popular products such as Psyllium Husk and fiber gummy tablets; but if you can get it from your diet it will also provide micronutrients and vitamins. And before we forget – fiber is also known to decrease cholesterol levels.
Folic acid: This is another substance that is often found in fortified foods. There’s plenty of medical research on its importance for women during pregnancy; folic acid can actually minimize or prevent the development of birth defects in fetuses.
Melatonin: This is one of those supplements that is heavily marketed as a cure-all for people with sleep disorders. As the night approaches, your body starts to release more and more melatonin to help make it easier for you to fall asleep when bedtime finally arrives. Despite its popularity, however, the medical research isn’t that strong on its effectiveness when taken in supplemental form. Many people swear by it, however, and have reportedly found it useful to help combat jet lag.
Macular degeneration vitamin admixtures: Macular degeneration refers to age-related vision loss via the specific disease. A concoction of the amino acid lutein, zinc, copper, zeaxanthin, vitamin E and vitamin C has shown to be useful in stifling the progression of this disease.
Creatine: The most studied performance enhancing supplement on Earth. Creatine has a multitude of benefits including building muscle, Increasing strength, brain health and more.
Protein Powder: This is pretty straight forward. If you need more protein in your diet, supplementing with a protein powder is not a bad idea.
Supplements With Unclear And Dubious Evidence
Antioxidants: These are some of the most highly-touted minerals/vitamins when it comes to conferring massive health benefits to the user; many manufacturers claim that the medical health benefits consist of scooping up damaging free radicals in your system by chemically binding to them to stifle their potency. Despite these claims, several actual studies do not appear to corroborate their claims effectiveness against stroke, heart disease and cancer. For reference, the most common market antioxidants include:
- vitamin C
- vitamin A
- vitamin E
In fact, there appears to be some evidence that these vitamins and minerals are unsafe when taken in high doses.
Multivitamins: Research shows that well over 100 million Americans take multivitamins regularly, despite the fact that there’s little evidence that they have much effect on the most common chronic diseases – in particular, cardiovascular disease and cancer. In any case, taking multivitamins does not seem to cause any adverse effects – and in fact they can help bolster an already healthy diet. Just don’t expect them to work on their own as a substitute for a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.
Omega-3 fatty acids: In particular, this refers to omega-3 fatty acids when consumed purely in supplemental form. Frankly, there are two schools of thought on this based on the mixed medical research results. Some of the studies suggest that there’s no benefit to taking supplemental omega-3 fatty acids, whereas other studies suggest that they can act as a bulwark against some heart ailments. One thing is absolutely clear however: omega-3 fatty acids in foods such as fish definitely protects against heart disease.
Echinacea: Another very popular ingredient in gummy bears that are touted as health solutions – particularly during cold season. While there is some evidence that echinacea provides limited protection from catching a cold, there’s not much evidence that it actually helps treat colds or other infections that affect the respiratory system.
Vitamin D: There are so many foods fortified with vitamin D on the market, that there is some question as to whether or not vitamin D supplements or even necessary. Although there are many claimed health benefits, the studies carried out so for healthy people don’t show much change. Of course, if you do have a deficiency then vitamin D supplements can help. A word of caution from Dr. Fang Fang Zhang: extremely high doses of vitamin D show an elevated risk of mortality as pertains to cancer.
Chondroitin and Glucosamine: You’ve likely seen capsules of the stuff at the supermarket or in nutrition stores – they’re very popular because of their claims in helping to repair cartilage. Unfortunately, the evidence is far from clear as to their effectiveness in combating osteoarthritis. At best, this evidence is mixed in nature – suggesting that more studies need to be completed.
Ginkgo Biloba: Finally for this section, the studies performed so far haven’t found any correlation between reality and the manufacturer’s claims that this natural herb is effective in fighting dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
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