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How Beneficial Are Those Suppliments?

Americans spend a lot of money on supplements each year hoping to keep cancer, heart disease, and dementia at bay. And by a lot, I mean twenty billion dollars a year. This high price doesn’t mean American’s efforts are working. New research shows that these supplements provide no benefit to the consumers and that they may even be hazardous to your health. Scary, yes?

In three studies recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers state that Americans spend too much money on pills that are not benefiting them and may even be harmful. Some even hint at supplement companies instilling false health anxieties in order to sell more pills. Dr. Lawrence Appel of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore and his co-authors wrote in an editorial Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements, "Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided." Have Americans been duped into buying unnecessary supplements for years?

The unhealthy findings involved vitamin E and beta carotene. Vitamin E taken in large quantities can be harmful and smokers who took beta carotene were at an increased risk for cancer. Whoa! Researchers also found that folic acid and vitamin B supplements were harmful and ineffective in preventing chronic diseases.

The experts advise that instead of popping more pills, people should eat more fruits and vegetables, reduce saturated and trans fat, salt, calories, and increase physical activity. Well, that’s not a shocker at all. We should be doing that anyway. It’s no mystery that nutrients consumed from the natural source are more beneficial than a supplement.

These new findings are obviously received with mixed emotion. It is not advised to just go throw away all of your supplements and forget about it. Consult your doctor and make an effort to eat healthier. While findings show that vitamin supplements will not delay death or chronic diseases, there are several groups who can still benefit from taking them.

Robert Berberian, D.O., an Integrative Medicine specialist in Los Angeles says, “What people have to understand, and what that editorial really didn’t mention, is that the role of vitamins is not to cure chronic illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or even cancer. The role of vitamins is to supplement some of the nutritional gaps in our diet.”

Vitamins are no magic bullet and they are certainly not a free pass to eat whatever you want. “The most important source of nutrition for your body is going to be through whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables,” says Berberian. “Vitamins should never act as a replacement for food, but rather as a supplement to fill in some of these deficiencies in our diet.”

People who live up north where it’s terribly cold or rainy should take vitamin D. The body needs this in order to absorb calcium and build strong bones. The majority of vitamin D is produced when the body is exposed to sunlight. “A lot of people are low in vitamin D in America,” says Berberian, “because not a lot of people get enough sun exposure—they’re working in an office setting all day long and hardly get enough sun.”

The second group who should take supplements are vegans and the elderly. They need to take vitamin B12. This is necessary for making red blood cells and brain function. Vitamin B12 is mainly found in meat, milk, and other dairy foods, thus causing many vegans to be deficient. Vegans can add flaky nutritional yeast to their foods to boost vitamin B12 but many vegans still need more. “In the typical vegan food, there really isn’t much vitamin B12,” says Berberian, “unless you are eating certain foods that are fortified with vitamin B12.”

The last group that can still benefit from vitamin supplements are pregnant women. Folic acid is very important for unborn babies. Most grain products in the United States are enriched with folic acid, but a supplement is still recommended. It is even advised to begin taking folic acid before you become pregnant.

Regardless of what you choose to do in regards to vitamin supplements, be sure to consult your doctor before making any permanent decisions. These studies were just released and there is no real cause to jump the gun and do anything drastic. Surely there will be more for us to learn on the subject in the future.

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