Supplements Offer Value, But Come With Caveats
A recent article in the Washington Post rightly expressed outrage on the massive amount of money Americans are spending on dietary supplements each year. In this country alone, $35 billion dollars of our hard-earned money is being pumped into in an industry that has little oversight and is selling products that for the most part have no known benefits whatsoever.
I completely agree with the fact that the overwhelming number of supplements taken by Americans are pretty much worthless if not outright dangerous. The majority of the supplements sold and discussed in this study are for weight loss, muscle building, and sexual enhancement. Studies have repeatedly shown that these products are frequently not what they claim to be. Many are adulterated with medications that can potentially harm the people who are taking the supplement. Many have other potentially harmful contaminants. Most of them have little if any scientific support for efficacy.
Is there a time and place for supplements?
Absolutely. Caveats abound, however. The FDA does not regulate over-the-counter nutritional supplements. One study showed that many over-the-counter melatonin supplements did not contain the dose advertised on the label with ranges from 0% of the advertised supplement to over 200 x the dose. This can be an especially serious problem in taking a supplement like vitamin D where overdoses can have serious health consequences. So, the first caveat is that you need to know if you can trust the manufacturer.
The second caveat is – why are you taking the supplement? For people on a healthy diet, a general multivitamin is not necessary. Supplements should address specific issues and be monitored appropriately. Is there any research that the supplement is helpful? At what dose for which patients? The research is ongoing, conflicting, and ever-changing so you really need to be talking with someone who is knowledgeable about supplements if you are going to be serious about improving your health.
The third caveat is – are you on the right diet for you? The definition of a healthy diet is changing and as we get better with genetic and other testing methods, we are learning that one diet fits all is not true. It turns out that foods that might be excellent for one person, such as a paleo diet, may be a disaster for another, resulting in gout and heart disease. Also, the diet that is appropriate for you today might not be appropriate when you are sick or after a major illness. This gets complicated and you need a good coach who can help tailor a proper diet for YOU.
The supplement issue is complicated. If we are going to take supplements, we are going to need to be smart consumers and treat them as seriously as we would anything else that we put in our bodies.
Gary Kaplan, D.O., DABFM, DABPM, FAAMA
Medical Director Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine
The Kaplan Medical Center Store offers a variety of supplements from trusted suppliers. Click here to visit the store.
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