The U.S. vitamins and minerals supplement industry has boomed over the last 25 years. While the promoted benefits make sense -“Vitamins are good for you and you can’t get them all from food, so supplement!”–the reality is that few studies have ever actually proven any of these benefits.
The June 2014 issue of Consumer Reports: On Health analyzes the latest research on why some supplements work, but so many don’t. We do know that studies have shown that people whose diets include strong levels of certain nutrients have a lower incidence of several diseases. But so far, blind trials giving people supplements versus placebos have not shown to provide the same benefits. There still is not enough evidence to support many of the claimed benefits of supplements and Consumer Reports caution that many vitamins can have negative side effects when taken in high doses.
Isolated Vitamin Supplements Rarely Work
One expert used antioxidants as an example of something that is good for you, but so far, the benefits have been difficult to replicate by taking supplements in isolation. One researcher put it this way: “Hundreds of nutrients effect antioxidant function in the body, so it’s not surprising that taking just a few isolated ones might have no affect or even mess up the system.”
Americans like a quick fix, and marketers are excellent at targeting our weak spots. Many supplement makers are careful to add in small letters on the label that their claims have not been scientifically proven.
It may surprise consumers to know that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration do not require supplement makers to include warnings about potential dangers or side effects of the ingredients. Consumer Reports warns of three ingredients you should never take, because they have a proven high risk of dangerous effects:
- Kava – Promoted as a stress reliever in teas and other products; studies have shown it can cause liver damage;
- Yohimbe – Erectile dysfunction ingredient sold both in prescription form and in over-the-counter products. The OTC form can cause high or low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, and other problems;
- Aconite – Taken to relieve inflammation and joint pain, but its side-effects include nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, and more serious problems.
Consumer Reports advises people to look for supplements that have been recommended by a credible third party; one way to do this is to check the U.S. Pharmacopeia website, uspverified.org. Supplement makers can voluntarily submit their products to this nonprofit scientific organization, which puts them through a rigorous testing and auditing process.
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