It might seem like the biggest ‘no duh’ in the universe, but new research is saying that while we still don’t know all of the pros and cons of supplements, what we DO know is that if you are NOT getting everything through your normal diet that supplementing makes sense – especially as you get older.
The reality is that supplements are a $14 BILLION industry in the US alone! That industry was built on the idea that ‘more is better’, and as noted in the article it specifically boomed after Linus Pauling recommended “3,000 milligrams of vitamin C every day to ward off colds and prevent degenerative and sometimes incurable diseases.” Of course since then we’ve learned that advice was nonsense, and that excess vitamin C exits the body through your urine, taking your paycheck along with it!
But that hasn’t stopped the endless barrage of supplement peddlers looking to take advantage of people simply trying to be as healthy as possible. I read one blog of a runner who takes a number of supplements, some general, others with compounds to aid recovery, and so on. These are all things that were likely originally given away as free samples at a running expo and were sold as ‘recovery aids’, and if the recovery went well for some people – they would thank the supplement!
Of course, all that supplements do is supply you with a balanced (in a multivitamin) or concentrated amount of particular compounds that we need to keep our bodies healthy. There are definitely cases – such as with Lisa and her Calcium / Vitamin D – where you need a supplement due to the way your body functions (or doesn’t). I look at that as being very similar to me taking Synthroid every day because my thyroid is kaput.
What many people do – and what I remember from some advertising way back – is look at it as a ‘can’t hurt, right’ thing. But while most studies show that if you eat healthy and then supplement there is neither benefit nor detriment, some studies have actually shown to be a problem when people self-medicate with them.
In particular, non-vitamin supplements can have side-effects. There was the famous case of St John’s Wort, which some called a ‘miracle cure-all’ and which is good for some things … but it can interfere with other medications and lead to some serious illnesses and even death. Fish oils were thought of as super brain cures that might help Alzheimer’s … yet not a single real study found this to be true.
Ultimately, the goal should be to ensure that you are getting all of your nutritional needs met through foods you eat. Whole, natural foods. And when it comes to determining what sorts of supplements you need, the best course of action is to consult with your doctor and see what your blood work indicates. And in general, we need to lose the ‘more is better’ attitude. Vitamin C is a great example – the normal amount we need daily is less than 100mg for men and women. Some say that when a cold or flu is approaching doubling up can help lessen the length and/or severity … but under no circumstances should you take that to the extreme of going over 1000mg or more as some in the past suggested!
Again, like with so many other things it is about common sense and not trying to find some miracle pill to fix everything. Back to my favorite eating quote:
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
I listen to a lot of podcasts, and last night it was about supplements and the ‘paleo way of eating’. The first question to the ladies was about how to and with what kind of vitamins to supplement their diet. The ladies’ answer? Eat more nutrient dense foods. I agree, I do not like to urinate out my highly priced vitamins, but if we take to much that is what our bodies will do.
Excellent point, Jade – I mean, it is one thing when people don’t really think about what they are eating and supplements ‘fill in the gaps’ … and another when they are actually putting thought and consideration into their diet. Getting nutrients from food should always be the goal.
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