Are Supplements Useful?

Nowadays, many people take supplements in order to improve their health. The question is: are supplements actually useful? The truth is that, contrary to what supplement companies want you to believe, very few groups of people need supplements. These groups are:
  • Women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant that may have a greater need for some vitamins and minerals like folic acid and iron.
  • People who can not receive the necessary nutrients through nutrition for some reason or who have greater needs because of illness such as cancer patients.
  • People that suffer from anemia, who need extra iron.
  • Strict vegetarians: some vegetarians may experience deficiencies of vitamin B12 and other vitamins and minerals.
What about all the others?

If you are a student and study too much, this doesn’t mean that you need more vitamins. The extra vitamins will not improve your memory. As for athletes, research shows that they may need slightly higher amount of vitamins compared to non-athletes, but athletes typically consume more calories and greater amounts of food so they automatically receive more vitamins and minerals. There is no clear evidence to suggest that if you take more vitamins and minerals than the ones you need, your performance will be better. On the other hand, if you have a vitamin deficiency, then yes this may reflect in your performance. As for dieters, if your diet is unbalanced (eliminates entire food groups) and contains very few calories, which means that you may not receive the necessary nutrients, then you probably need to change your diet. A balanced diet should cover your daily needs for vitamins and minerals. Let us not forget that many of the foods we eat every day are already fortified with vitamins and minerals, so in a way we already take a multivitamin without knowing it.

Additionally, there is reason to believe that taking supplements may not be even safe. Three new studies remind us once again that supplements can not be used as substitutes of a balanced diet and are not always associated with better health. Instead, a new study in Finland showed that the use of some supplements was associated with increased risk of death. The research collected data from 38.772 women aged 55 to 69 years. The results from the analysis of data showed a 2.4% increase in the risk of death with the use of multivitamins, increased probability of death by 3% to 6% with the use of vitamin B6 supplements, folic acid, iron, magnesium and zinc and the risk rises to 18 %, if you use copper supplements. A second study by American researchers that was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that we absorb 5 to 8 times smaller amounts of phytochemical substances from supplements, compared to the actual food that contains them. These phytochemicals are found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. The researchers claim that in order to absorb these beneficial substances, we need an enzyme that is not present inside the supplements. A third study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that taking vitamin E supplement significantly increases the probability of developing prostate cancer. The study included 35.533 healthy men, and watched them for nearly 6 years. It was found that men, who were taking 400 IU of vitamin E per day through supplements, were 17% more likely to develop prostate cancer compared to men taking placebo.