If you care about what you eat and drink even a little bit, you’ve probably heard of nutritional supplements. Many people use them to fill in the gaps in their diets when it comes to nutrients. They are so popular now that they come in many different forms, like tablets, capsules, drinks, and so on.
Scientists from Northwestern Medicine, on the other hand, say that Americans who are not pregnant and are healthy don’t need to spend money on extra vitamins. In the press release that just came out today, they also say that there isn’t enough proof that supplements help prevent heart disease or cancer.
“Patients always ask, ‘What supplements should I take?'” Dr. Jeffrey Linder, chief of general internal medicine in the department of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said, “They’re wasting money and time thinking there must be a magic set of pills that will keep them healthy when we should all just eat healthily and exercise.”
There is no proof that they work.
Based on a review of 84 studies, the United States Preventive Services Task Force’s (USPSTF) new guidelines say that there is “insufficient evidence” that taking multivitamins and paired or single supplements will help healthy, non-pregnant people avoid heart disease and cancer.
The task force does not recommend taking beta-carotene or vitamin E because they might increase your risk of lung cancer or heart disease, respectively, and because there is no proof that they will help you live longer or avoid cancer, heart disease, or stroke.
Linder said, “The problem is that when we talk to patients about supplements in the short amount of time we have with them, we miss out on counseling about how to really lower cardiovascular risks, such as through exercise or giving up smoking.”
Supplements are taken by many Americans.
People in the United States spent about $50 billion on vitamins and dietary supplements in 2021. This was due to the popularity of supplements that made up for nutritional gaps in their diet. In the study, which was published in the journal JAMA editorial, Linder and his team also say that more than half of adults in the United States take dietary supplements and that this number is expected to grow.
People may think that it would be much easier to just take vitamins and minerals in pill form instead of eating a balanced diet. On the other hand, the research team says that fruits and vegetables have a mix of vitamins, phytochemicals, fiber, and other nutrients that work together. Because of this, different micronutrients may have different effects on the body when taken alone.
But it’s important to remember that Linder said people who aren’t getting enough vitamins can still benefit from dietary supplements. Also, the new guidelines from the USPSTF don’t apply to women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant.
“People who are pregnant should remember that these rules don’t apply to them,” said Cameron, who is also a doctor at Northwestern Medicine. “Pregnant women need certain vitamins, like folic acid, to help their babies grow up healthy. Taking a prenatal vitamin is the most common way to meet these needs. Dr. Natalie Cameron, an instructor of general internal medicine at Feinberg and co-author of the JAMA editorial, said that more information is needed to figure out how taking certain vitamins may change the risk of bad pregnancy outcomes and heart problems during pregnancy.
“It’s easier said than done for low-income Americans to eat healthier and exercise more,” said Dr. Jenny Jia, a co-author of the JAMA editorial who studies how lifestyle changes can prevent chronic diseases in low-income families.
This makes me wonder how people with less money can eat healthy in an industrialized food system that doesn’t put health first.