Bonnie and Steve: If you listen to mainstream media and the allopathic medical community, news regarding supplements can sound scary. The fear-mongering is both misguided and well-planned.
There should be no controversy. Here's why.
1. There is an intelligent way to take supplements and a less intelligent way to take supplements. The less intelligent way has sparked much of the fear-mongering.
2. Dietary supplements should not be taken lightly. If you self-prescribe, you can increase the risk of adverse effects, especially if you take medication. We always advocate discussing your needs with a licensed health professional with expertise in prescribing dietary supplements. That said, high quality dietary supplements do not kill, do not promote early death, and very rarely create acute adverse effects.
3. Supplements do not act like drugs. Researchers and medical journals structure supplement studies as they do drugs. This is a non-starter. Supplements are not meant to cure disease. Supplements are meant to support overall well-being, fill in nutrients where one's needs are not being met, and reduce the risk of future disease. The most successful and accurate supplement studies take the long-term approach (over a 10 to 40 year period).
4. Older subjects dominate the research. Supplement research studies are commonly performed on older subjects who already have diseases. The best supplement studies have been performed on healthy, young persons who have taken supplements over a long period of time.
5. The supplement sources researchers use are fatally flawed.Vitamin E is the poster-child for this common mistake. No vitamin has received more bad press than vitamin E. Any nutritionist worth their salt will never prescribe vitamin E by itself in alpha tocopherol form. They prescribe mixed tocopherols. If you take a high amount of only one tocopherol, it creates an imbalance. No major vitamin E study has used mixed tocopherols to date.
6. The majority of negative supplement studies are structured as "meta-analyses". For example, a recent study showing fish oil to have very little benefit was a meta-analysis. The researcher had the ability to comb over thousands of studies and based upon criteria that the researcher decided, hand-picked a few studies. Using this philosophy, any researcher with bias either for or against a supplement can create the outcome they desire based upon the studies they choose.
7. A few bad apples do not represent an entire industry. There are rogue supplement manufacturers, many of them on the Internet, that give the industry a bad name. This is another reason why self-prescribing supplements, listening to independent sales consultants, or following the sensationalism of television pundits, creates inherent confusion and risk.
8. In the beginning, the motivation of supplement manufacturers was to help people stay healthy and prevent disease. Most still adhere to this mantra. However, supplements are big business and like Big Pharma, manufacturers need to continually come up with new products to stay unique, keep interest, grow their product offerings, and generate new sources of revenue. Many of the new products are either hype or have unproven safety. While there are exceptions, we almost always advise waiting several years to try a supplement that is new to market. You rarely see us offer new supplements, especially ones with a lot of hype. There are a plethora of well-researched, safe, clinically tested and proven options already available.
9. There is a media bias towards supplements. British Medical Journal came out with a study on this topic late last year. Look at your print or online media. They are loaded with drug ads. Supplements are Big Pharma's enemy. As vulnerable as the media industry is right now, they are not going to bite the hand that feeds them. Here are topics that never sniffed mainstream media in 2012:
Quercetin's Anti-Tumor Activity
Multivitamins Improve Memory Recall
Magnesium Intake in US Suboptimal, Reduces Stroke Risk in Women
Omega 3's Increase Brain Volume, Lower Colon Polyps
CoQ10 Supports Parkinson's disease
10. Our government is schizophrenic with supplements. For example, we know that former or soon-to-be Big Pharma executives run the FDA and CDC. So it is not surprising that a CDC report on the NHANES study stated that most Americans get enough vitamins and minerals. Only 10% of the population did not get enough. We know this is wrong because the report was based upon antiquated vitamin and mineral levels that have not been revised since the early 1980's.
On the other hand, the FDA allows qualified health claims, even for supplements that have come under supposed scrutiny. The language for qualified health claims for B-vitamins, calcium, chromium picolinate, green tea, omega-3 fatty acids, phosphatidlyserine, selenium, vitamin C, and vitamin E, can be found at this fda.gov page.
Bonnie: I have prescribed supplements to clients on an individualized basis for 27 years. I take them. My husband takes them. My children take them. My grandchildren take them. I would not advocate supplements if I thought there was a shred of evidence that, when taken responsibly, they could do harm. However, there are supplements that I will never recommend because I have found them to be useless or have the potential to produce adverse effects.
For more on this issue, I encourage you to watch "The Vitamin Controversy," my two-part interview with clinical psychologist Dr. Sandy Scheinbaum.
The following link provides supporting evidence to much of the aforementioned.
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