Supplement Nation

September 11th, 2015

There is a huge – and growing – disconnect between what the science says about the use of dietary supplements and what people are doing.

On one hand, we have:Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided. This message is especially true for the general population with no clear evidence of micronutrient deficiencies, who represent most supplement users in the U.S.”   And, optimal nutrition and health can be achieved in the vast majority of people through a well-balanced diet alone.

On the other hand, we have: Vitamin and supplement sales in the U.S.  grew from $19.7 billion in 2009 to $24.6 billion in 2013.

There are legitimate reasons for some people to take supplements, such as pregnant women taking folic acid and older adults taking vitamin D and calcium. But those cases account for a small percentage of supplement sales. In a recent survey, 72% of men and 48% of women who work out regularly reported using protein supplements, even though quality protein can easily be obtained, for less money, in food alone.

Where’s The Oversight?

If you are thinking about taking a supplement, please consider the following: 

Look for the *

FDA regulations ban supplement manufacturers from making specific health claims about their products.  Instead, they make statements, such as:

Promotes internal balance and healthy aging *

Helps protect and lubricate joints*

Helps maintain a healthy cardiovascular system*

Supports the digestive and intestinal systems*

* These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to treat, cure or prevent any disease.

The disclaimer in bold above is required by law, and it means that the manufacturer very likely cannot prove that its products are any more effective than a dummy pill.  And individual testimonials may be the only evidence offered to back up their claims.

Writer’s disclaimer: The disclaimer on supplement labels is in very small print.

One critic of the weak FDA supervision interpreted the laws as meaning, “Sell whatever you want, just don’t let us catch you.”  And several manufacturers of herbal supplements were caught, when it was found that,”one third of supplements tested did not contain the plants on the label – only fillers such as rice, beans and carrots.”  In 2012, Pfizer Consumer Healthcare reached a settlement with the Center for Science in the Public Interest over misleading claims on its supplement labels.  And there have been calls to increase oversight of the supplement industry.

Believe The Science

The best evidence tells us that a well-balanced diet provides the majority of people with all the nutrients they need to obtain optimal health, and it is not necessary – and may be harmful – to use dietary supplements.  There are people who can benefit  from taking a supplement – under the guidance of a physician or dietitian.

Ask supplement distributors and manufacturers for as much information they have about the safety and effectiveness of their products.

Science matters.















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