Do you want to know how much we love our supplements? Americans spend $12 billion a year on these bad boys that supposedly cure or prevent everything from heart disease to male impotence.
In other words, they’re little miracle pills that counteract all the bad stuff we may subject our bodies to – like that extra glass or 5 of wine at dinner.
Not only don’t vitamins and supplements nullify the toxins and abuse we put our bodies through, many studies show they don’t do much to “supplement” all the GOOD things we ingest.
Piggy-backing off multiple studies that have shown the average person reaps no benefits from taking multivitamins, a team of researchers from the University of Alabama recently conducted and published an extensive study on the topic of supplement usefulness.
Dr. Joonseok Kim, assistant professor of the cardiology department at U. of A., and his team set out to prove (or disprove) a correlation between the use of multivitamins and heart health. They reviewed 18 rigorous scientific studies published from 1970 to 2016 – covering more than 2 million people who were followed and evaluated for an average of 18 years.
“We meticulously evaluated the body of scientific evidence and found no clinical benefit of multivitamin and mineral use to prevent heart attacks, strokes or cardiovascular death,” he concluded in a statement to the press.
Their study was recently published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.
“It has been exceptionally difficult to convince people – including nutritional researchers – to acknowledge that multivitamin and mineral supplements don’t prevent cardiovascular diseases,” Kim said. “I hope our study findings help decrease the hype around multivitamin and mineral supplements and encourage people to use proven methods to reduce their risk of cardiovascular diseases — such as eating more fruits and vegetables, exercising and avoiding tobacco.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of Americans take multivitamins and supplements, yet we rank 33rd in the world for healthy citizens and number one for heart disease.
With all that being said, there is a lot of data that suggests that food-derived vitamins are not only superior to chemically-derived vitamins, but they actually DO work. The rationale behind this line of thinking is that the human body is not equipped to digest and absorb nutrients made in a lab.
However, if supplements are actually made from real foods and nutrients, the body can utilize the derivatives and benefit from the micronutrients.
So that $7 drugstore brand is probably a waste of your money, but that food-based $30 bottle you can only buy at a health store may be worth your money. But that’s a big, fat maybe.
“But what if I take meticulous care of my health? Can I take multivitamins then?” you may be wondering.
The simple answer is: provided that you eat a balanced diet, largely focused on plant-based foods, you probably have absolutely no reason to waste your time or money. In fact, taking too many supplements could be detrimental to your health.
Vitamin A, for example, can cause liver damage if taken in high amounts. One study found that too much vitamin E may raise the risk of prostate cancer. Yet another study of 40,000 women found a slightly higher risk of death in women who took supplements. And ANOTHER study concluded that calcium might damage your heart.
“But what if my doctor suggests I incorporate a multivitamin into my diet?” may be your second thought.
That’s a tough one.
“Multivitamins are often recommended by well-intentioned physicians,” Alyson Haslam and Dr. Vinay Prasad of the Oregon Health and Science University’s Knight Cancer Institute wrote in a commentary. “Unfortunately, the results from a variety of previous studies do not support the practice of multivitamin supplementation for cardiovascular disease and mortality.”
Almost always go by what your physician recommends. Certain subgroups of people unarguably need supplements, such as pregnant women or those with severe deficiencies.
The easiest way to figure out if you really should be taking vitamins is by asking your doctor if a better diet would be a more effective alternative. Chances are, he or she will say yes.
“Eat a healthy diet for a healthy heart and a long, healthy life,” Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, the American Heart Association’s chief medical officer for prevention, recently confirmed to NBC News. “There’s just no substitute for a balanced, nutritious diet with more fruits and vegetables that limits excess calories, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, sugar and dietary cholesterol.”
Of course, this isn’t what any of us want to hear, but the hard dose of reality might save your money and your health.