The Effects of Popular Supplements


In an earlier post on contaminants found in various over the counter supplements, found here, a reader asked for a review. First, let me state that supplements should be considered the same as prescription drugs and should be ‘prescribed’ only if needed.Supplements

Most people look at supplements and vitamins with this specific mindset:

  1. It couldn’t be dangerous if it is available over the counter.
  2. It might help, but no harm done if it doesn’t.

Both of these are false. As to danger, we have already seen in the above-mentioned post that dangerous substances can show up, but that is not the main problem. The human body is a highly regulated and optimized system. You are not going to improve things by meddling with this. You can only make it worse. This has been shown time and time again. We will go into some specifics below, but the primary example of when a supplement might be appropriate would be if you cannot get it from the food that is available to you. Here are some examples.

  • Some isolated communities do not get enough iodine in their diet and get goiter. Iodine supplements would be appropriate.
  • Some older people cannot make enough thyroxin, and thyroid supplements may be appropriate in this case.
  • Some men have low testosterone that does not respond to exercise. Testosterone supplementation could work here.
  • If you have a cold, a zinc supplement may accelerate recovery.
  • If you have taken a course of antibiotics, you have wiped out your gut bacteria. Taking probiotics might jump start restoring a healthy bacterial population.
  • A couple of handfuls of nuts per week will reduce heart disease. (Actually this works as well as statins, with no side effects unless you are allergic.)
  • You lack, the incidence of this problem increases with age, the ability to absorb dietary B-12, then take under-the-tongue B-12.

Hopefully you get the idea. There needs to be some specific medical reason. It definitely should not be based on generic claims like ‘anti-oxidants’, or heart health.

Now for the bad news. Virtually all of the rest of the supplements either do nothing or do harm. Here are the effects now known for these popular over the counter products.

  • Vitamin A – 18% increase in cancer risk
  • Vitamin B3 – Niacin – was promoted as heart benefit. Reality: no benefit found, increased the risk of internal bleeding and gastrointestinal problems.
  • Vitamin B9 – Folic acid – significantly increased colorectal and prostate cancer
  • Vitamin C – promoted for use against colds, etc. Results vary. No benefit has been consistently shown.
  • Vitamin D – Excessive use may increase risk of pancreatic cancer and problem of balance.
  • Vitamin E – Promoted for heart disease. Reality: no benefit for heart disease and slightly higher overall mortality.
  • Multi-Vitamins – Clearly a bad idea in view of the above.
  • Resveratrol – No benefit shown
  • Calcium, with or without vitamin D – promoted for osteoporosis. Reality: Will slow it down, but increases incidents of heart attacks 20%. Supplemental calcium is now also linked to an increase in prostate cancer. (Osteoporosis is easily preventable, curable, and even reversible with the right type of a certain exercise – stay tuned.)

The list goes on. Here are three things to remember about supplements.

  1. The over the counter supplement industry is not controlled. You do not know what you are actually getting.
  2. Supplements, like any other pill, should be taken for a specific reason, not because you think it might be a good idea.
  3. The body is a very well regulated biological system, and if it is not overloaded with the wrong food or a sedentary lifestyle, is capable of maintaining peak health to a very old age. Unnecessary supplements throw a monkey wrench into all this. Why do it?
  4. Any sensible diet, with a breadth of food, but particularly colored vegetables and meats, will completely provide all the nutrients you need, in levels that can be managed. You do not need to add to this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.