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5 Reasons Why They Say Supplements Are Bad For You and Why They’re Wrong

5 Reasons Why They Say Supplements Are Bad For You and Why They’re Wrong

The health industry is inundated with a plethora of dietary supplements claiming to help improve health and specific conditions. You may find yourself asking your healthcare provider about supplements or doing your own research on them. 

The problem is, you’d find a lot of conflicting information on supplements. Health-conscious consumers may not just be overwhelmed with choices, but may also be confused as to whether they should take supplements in the first place. If you are facing this dilemma, I encourage you to read part 1 of this series: Should You Take Supplements?

Today we’re going to address the common arguments used to discourage you from taking supplements. Again, the goal is for you to become your own authority in health and be able to make the right decisions for yourself.

Arguments that Supplements are Bad for You

There are a number of reasons why certain health professionals say supplements are bad for you. Here are the five common arguments listed in the original Medium article referenced in part 1:

1. Poor FDA control over supplements. 

In a February press release, FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb says, “"The growth in the number of adulterated and misbranded products, including those spiked with drug ingredients not declared on their labels, misleading claims, and other risks creates new potential dangers.” The agency admits that the supplement industry’s rapid growth has outpaced the agency’s capacity to manage it. 

While it is true that there needs to be accountability in supplement manufacturing, in my opinion the FDA may not be the right agency to do that. Joanna Sax, professor of law at California Western Law School says, "There are really no laws that make supplement companies go through the FDA in the first place."  

We want to make sure that things are safe, but we need to be careful of putting ourselves at risk of severely diminishing our health freedom because of experts who see supplements solely from a public health point of view which as I mentioned in part 1 has value but from this perspective, they fail to take into account a consumer’s individual health needs. This should not be neglected when deciding on supplements.

You can research companies to determine safety. I use the Life Extension Foundation and Thorne supplements for myself and my patients.

2. It’s hard to preserve the quality of some nutrients. 

Nutrients and vitamins vary in stability. Let’s take for example Omega-3s. Chandan Sen, Vice President of Research at the Indiana University School of Medicine says, "When you talk about fish oil and omega-3, it's very difficult and expensive to preserve the goodness of the fatty acids and to put it in capsules."

This is true, but this alone should not prevent you from taking fish oil if it would benefit your health. The solution is to educate yourself on how to pick high-quality supplements. In the case of fish oils, there are ways to determine the quality and non-oxidation of fish oil.   The evidence for the uses for omega-3 oils is actually very narrow and they do not justify the widespread use of them, but they are helpful in a handful of circumstances, so be smart and pick a good quality one.   

3. Supplement manufacturers spend far more on product marketing than on proper research and development, which is not in the best interest of consumers.

This argument may sound logical, but it is not how the supplement industry works. As a health and food entrepreneur myself, I am aware of the business processes these supplements go through before they are released to the public and I can tell you that overwhelmingly, the manufacturers are not the ones doing the research.   

In fact, most of these supplements were produced based on studies that were first conducted by researchers at the university level. This is being done by researchers who are interested in nutrients, nutraceuticals, and supplements in general. You want the studies to be done by well-meaning people who are interested in the research.  There are certainly studies sponsored by larger companies, but the main research for the most common nutrients was not done by these companies. 

4. The idea that you can take supplements to fix everything or live forever is faulty. 

Dr. Mark Moyad, Jenkins/Pomkempner Director of Preventive & Alternative Medicine at the University of Michigan says, "The idea that you can take 10 pills a day and fix everything or live forever is faulty. There's a huge disconnect between people's perception of supplements and the reality, and that reality can be really destructive."  

He further says, "There's a desire to go from point A to point B as quickly and easily as possible and taking pills to do that is very chic right now. I think we'll get to a place where some supplements could have incredible value..., but people need to wake up to the fact that if they're experimenting on themselves with these products they could wake up in a few years and have done real harm."

I agree that taking pills to fix all your health issues is not accurate, but to say that it’s really destructive is not true. It is also incorrect to use this reason to downplay the fact that supplements can be used in a smart fashion. As an educated consumer, I hope that you wouldn’t be simply swayed to take a bunch of supplements as a shortcut or a quick fix without knowing what you must look for in supplements and without considering your medical condition or health needs. 

There’s not going to be any product that’s going to increase longevity, but they are doing a study right now on Metformin, a diabetic medicine, which researchers found to help increase lifespan. [1]

 4. Supplements can be dangerous.

No one is also recommending taking a bagful of supplements, but there are very few side effects to supplements reported in the US compared to pharmaceuticals. Critics often use the CARET study to support this claim that supplements can be harmful. A study on the effects of Beta Carotene and Alpha-Tocopherol showed that there was an 18% increase in lung cancers and an 8% increase in deaths in male smokers who took beta carotene daily for 5 to 8 years. [2]

But then there’s the Physician’s Health Study that showed that beta carotene supplementation was not found to be associated with lung cancer mortality 10 years after the intervention ended. This is not to say that anyone should be taking beta-carotene by themselves. Our knowledge has progressed so much since then that no one would suggest taking an isolated beta-carotene supplement. It’s just that people use the beta-carotene study as an example to prove that something like this could happen again with other dietary supplements. 

The problem here is there could only be an issue with a single nutrient and that doesn’t mean that we might not find another supplement that potentially could be dangerous. This is why you need to educate yourself, look into these studies about supplements, and become a smart consumer and find an expert that can help you tailor your supplement regimen. It’s part of becoming your own authority.

5. Supplements can be harmful when taken without a doctor’s approval.

Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, says "If you're taking a handful of supplements without a doctor's oversight, there's the potential for almost anything to happen.” 

The truth is that hardly anything ever does happen when people take supplements without their doctor’s oversight. I believe that all of us are capable to find the right experts and guidance to be able to make those decisions for ourselves.  Those experts are not always MD’s/DO’s.  

The bottomline here is you need to find a good reason for taking supplements and to educate yourself so you can make the right decisions for your health. 

In part 3, I will discuss the opposite view—why supplements can be amazing and you will learn how supplements can help you.

Need guidance in becoming your own authority in health? Let’s talk. Set up a free consultation with me.

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6339796/

https://academic.oup.com/jnci/article-pdf/88/3-4/145/7811382/88-3-4-145.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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