Americans Still Depend Far Too Much on Their Supplements

You've probably read many times on my Web site most of the new patients I see typically spend more than $100 a month on supplements, and some much more than that. Nevertheless, supplements will not compensate for improper eating. Use the right food as your supplement and your body will be much healthier and much more likely to obtain the real benefits of the vitamin.

From a recent government study I read, people don't seem to be paying much attention, however. In fact, some 52 percent of American adults take vitamins and supplements today, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, versus only 23 percent 30 years ago.

Researchers also uncovered trends in people taking a host of less traditional supplements, from single nutrients, such as folate, to herbal products, such as ginkgo and echinacea. Most such herbs have no nutrient value, but they're consumed because of their putative health-promoting properties.

The good news: A large share of adults now gets at least adequate amounts of many important vitamins and minerals. But the data shows many people, as usual, overdo it. Moreover, supplements may actually be pushing some people toward unhealthy excesses of certain nutrients, especially if they routinely take multivitamins in addition to high-dose single-nutrient pills or antacids.

Some antacids contain quantities of magnesium approaching the National Institute of Medicine's recommended upper limit. Exceeding that limit can lead to diarrhea and other problems. More typically, however, antacids contain large quantities of calcium. Although that should be good for bones, some studies linking calcium supplements with prostate cancer.

Studies attempting to correlate diet and health have typically done a poor job at quantifying the contribution of supplements, because of the blurred line between supplements, foods and drugs. Sadly, some of those polled in the study weren't aware of the extent of their supplementation, reporting some supplements, such as iron tablets and vitamins taken during pregnancy, as prescription medicines.

Science News Vol. 166, No. 10

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