As a medical student, the question I have been asked from time to time by my family, friends, and strangers, is “should I take vitamin and mineral supplements? Even now that I’m a new medical graduate, this same question continues to populate the media and has led to 24 billion dollars. How do you know if you should take a supplement?
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Having the Right Education
Recently, I read about a deadly incident related to supplement use in the consumer report.
According to the latest consumer report, “last fall in the state of Virginia, 17 men were hospitalized with severe (some of them with life-threatening hypoglycemia (low blood sugar level), after using a dietary male enhancement supplement.
These men thought they were buying a male enhancement supplement that supposed to help them, but little did they know that some humans are cruel, willing to kill their fellow humans, and sacrifice their souls all for what?
To be rich. It’s very disheartening to see that most people living in the world have lost their integrity.
During the investigation, the analysis report showed that the supplement contained Viagra drug (sildenafil) for erectile dysfunction and glyburide (treat diabetes).
The report also stated that the FDA didn’t have any idea of the perpetrator. It’s unfortunate and shameful that people we entrust to protect consumers are behind the curve.
This event and other incidents are why I think that we need to go back to the basics and look at the root cause, which I believe is due to a lack of knowledge.
Here is a complete guide to vitamins and minerals.
In this article, I will like to provide you with the essential information to empower you in deciding if you should take any supplements or just really on your diet.
If you decided that you need one or more supplements, I would provide you with various tips to choosing supplements in the next articles; Choosing a Supplement: How to Make an Informed Choice.
Let’s get started,
How It All Started:
Historical Background of Supplement
Forty years ago, some doctors and several nutritionists started to advise their patients to take vitamin and mineral supplements without any reliable evidence to support their claims of health benefits of the majority of these supplements.
Generally, you shouldn’t take any individual supplements, except it is recommended by your nutritionist or healthcare professional. One exception to this rule is for pregnant women and those suffering from weakened bones, a condition is known as osteoporosis or osteopenia.
Before getting pregnant, every reproductive age female advised beginning taking the recommended dose of folic acid (RDA: 400 mcg or 0.4mg) or more (4.0mg) to prevent recurrent neural tube defect (failure of the spine to close). While those with weakened bones, vitamin D, and Calcium are suggested.
Supplements with No Proven Health Benefits
Every year, over $20 billion spent on supplements. Most people probably spent up to $30-$50 on the most popular brands annually. According to consumerreport.com, 50% of Americans take multivitamins and other supplements every day, making vitamins the most popular among all dietary supplements.
Why spend so much on a supplement? Do they work?
Harvard Medicine researchers concluded that there is no proven evidence of any health benefits from taking vitamins A, B, C, and E, including beta carotene supplements.
The simple multivitamin-multimineral supplement scheme started initially to compensate for dietary shortfalls and meet the recommended dietary allowance (RDAs).
Most of these vitamin supplements are not practical because of a lack of regulation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
This problem had led to various tablets with a variety of composition flooding the market industry, some containing all of the essential vitamins and minerals while others mixed with excess fillers plus few vitamins.
The truth is that there is a very minimal benefit from using a daily multivitamin.
Research studies to Back No Benefit Claim
A study showed a 9% decrease in cataracts and an 8% decrease in cancer, still, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force finalized that there isn’t enough evidence to support the widespread claims that multivitamin-multimineral supplements will prevent chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
This conclusion is primarily due to lack of enough studies; there was only one large-scale, long-term randomized controlled trial (RCT) known as the Physicians’ Health Study II of male doctors.
In this study, the men who have more risk factors of heart attack or stroke were regularly given multivitamins for more than ten years, regardless of the quality of their diet.
The control group comprises of men who didn’t take any supplements.
Additionally, the only studies that you will expect to show benefits are observational studies, but still, there was no benefit to taking multivitamins.
For instance, there was a long-term (for 32 years) prospective observational (Nurses’ Health Study) trial that was conducted with 86,142 women, on the use of multivitamin which surprisingly didn’t find any benefit (reduction) in stroke (cerebrovascular accident) or death (mortality) incidence rate.
Also, the same negative result observed for women with a poor-quality diet—that you would think should benefit the most from taking supplements.
Further, a recent meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology stated that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that multivitamin-multimineral supplements can prevent or treat cardiac disease.
More high-quality studies are still needed to determine if multivitamin-multimineral supplements have any health benefits. Currently, researchers at Harvard University and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle are testing a frequently used “multivitamin-multimineral” supplement using 21,444 recruited women (65 years and older) and men (60 years and older).
There is another underway, a new sizeable randomized trial known as the Cocoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS) for that, and a cocoa extract supplement in a test that anticipated to last four years.
The Negative Impacts of taking Supplements?
The potential side effects of taking a standard multivitamin or multimineral supplements are very few. But you get more potential health benefits. Also, you were probably already taking one of those vitamins recommended by your physicians or dietician.
According to the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines, over 50 years, Americans should consider taking multivitamin or vitamin B12 supplements to ensure enough vitamin B12 levels in the blood.
Further, CDC recommends all females of childbearing age take folic acid daily as soon possible because it can lower their risk of congenital disability, and more than 50% of pregnancy is unplanned.
Folic acid is usually added to the multivitamin supplement because doing so reduces the risk of congenital disabilities. Please see my article on Why Female Need to Start Taking Folic Acid?
Recommendation from Harvard doctors: To ensure high-quality and consistency, look for an inexpensive preparation from a mainstream manufacturer.
The label should include 100% of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin B12, vitamin D, folic acid, and vitamin B6. Studies have shown that extra vitamin D is unlikely to be hurt you.
For example, recently, studies found that the 1,000 IU recommended by several experts, is almost twice the DV, and in many formulations. But, those other vitamins with extra amounts may cause you more harm than good
What about supplements intended at seniors, women, and men?
Although some vitamin or mineral supplements may be beneficial in specific issues, others are merely marketing tricks devised to increase profits rather than your health.
Please don’t waste your hard-earned money on “all-natural,” high potency, “No side effect,” or designer vitamins.
Tip: There are so many supplement products in the market.
Again, read the bottle label carefully to ensure you stay within a safe dose limit for your age, sex, and, most importantly, get exactly what you need.
Let’s Wrap it up
Lastly, if you don’t recall anything from this article, remember that your daily multivitamin supplement is not a substitute for a healthful diet but a supplement, and insurance policy.
Thanks for reading this article. I hope you learn something, even if a little that will you make informed choices about whether eating a healthful diet to meet your vitamins and mineral needs or supplementing some of those few vitamins using genuinely high-quality supplements.
If you have any questions or comment, I will love to hear from you, please leave your comment below, and I will get back to you within 24 hours.
Harvard Medical School. (Making Sense of Vitamins and Minerals: Choosing the foods and nutrients you need to stay healthy. Special Health Report Purchased at https://www.health.harvard.edu.
Note: This Harvard Health Publication was prepared exclusively for Benson Eghreriniovo – Purchased at https://www.health.harvard.edu. If you are interested in having a copy, you can buy it on their website or let me know.