The Myth of Supplements

Via The Atlantic’s The Vitamin Myth: Why We Think We Need Supplements :

"Vitamin" by James Keuning 2012 for The Noun Project, CC0
Vitamin” by James Keuning 2012 for The Noun Project, CC0

Nutrition experts contend that all we need is what’s typically found in a routine diet. Industry representatives, backed by a fascinating history, argue that foods don’t contain enough, and we need supplements. Fortunately, many excellent studies have now resolved the issue.

A bevy of recent research studies have actually shown detrimental effects of supplement usage (including cancer risk, heart disease, and shortened lifespan ) – and yet we continue to purchase supplements in droves. The frenzy can be largely attributed to one man, Linus Pauling, “a man who was so spectacularly right that he won two Nobel Prizes and so spectacularly wrong that he was arguably the world’s greatest quack.

Vitamins have been billed as essential in the battle against free radicals, and “although it’s clear that free radicals can damage DNA and disrupt cell membranes, that’s not always a bad thing. People need free radicals to kill bacteria and eliminate new cancer cells. But when people take large doses of antioxidants, the balance between free radical production and destruction might tip too much in one direction, causing an unnatural state in which the immune system is less able to kill harmful invaders. Researchers have called this ‘the antioxidant paradox.’ Whatever the reason, the data are clear: high doses of vitamins and supplements increase the risk of heart disease and cancer; for this reason, not a single national or international organization responsible for the public’s health recommends them.

Read the full article here.

Now, I take vitamin supplements regularly, and I don’t believe that this article or the studies mentioned in it are wholesale indictments of the entire  process – but I do think they signal important points that consumers and patients should be aware of: that vitamins should not be viewed as a panacea of variety of conditions, and that we need to be cognizant of dosage levels.

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