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Are you popping pill? - Medically Speaking, Volume Two, Number Twelve, 6/18/15

Despite our best efforts in healthy eating, most Americans do not consume 100% of the Recommended Daily Allowance for all of the vitamins and minerals. So should we be taking a multivitamin? What about just supplementing a single nutrient? Like vitamin C when we are sick? Or B vitamins for energy? Is a supplement just as good as getting the nutrients from foods?

What about supplementing Vitamin B for energy? My friend told me that it works wonders for her. What about Vitamin D and Ca for bone health? My grandma has been on it for years. And don’t forget to add in a little Vitamin C during cold and flu season. My sister is on raspberry leaves to help with weight loss. Does that really work?

Americans are projected to spend close to $21 billion on supplements in 2015. 50% of us take a multi-vitamin. And 1 in 5 take an herbal supplement. Despite the fact that there is little evidence linking supplement use with disease prevention and health, it is a growing industry. How are consumers to know if the product they are spending their money on has any real benefits?

The herbal supplement industry is not regulated like the prescription drug industry is. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires companies to accurately list their ingredients on the label. They are also required to report any serious adverse side effects of the supplement to the FDA. In 2010 a proposed bill requiring all adverse side effects be reported died in the Senate. The FDA does spot checks for ingredient accuracy. However, due to limited funds, its influence is only minor. Supplement makers bank on the fact that they will not get caught with less than accurate ingredients. Recent reports show that only about 20% of the supplements tested were 100% accurate with their labeling.

I look at a multi-vitamin like I do insurance. We try to eat healthy and get a variety of fresh fruits and vegetable. We do our best to eat a well-rounded diet that is full of various natural colors. Then take a multi-vitamin as “insurance” to cover what we didn’t quite fit in. Plant foods offer so many other health benefits including fiber, bulk, phytochemicals and antioxidants. Eating a diet full of processed food and junk and then taking a multivitamin will never produce the same health benefits of eating a healthful well rounded diet. There are supplements such as folic acid in pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects, and vitamin B12 to treat anemia in the elderly, that have been clinically proven. However for most Americans, the risk of a vitamin deficiency is relatively small. Our money would be better spent on fresh foods than on bottles of pills. That being said, taking a multi vitamin is not a bad idea. It is safer than supplementing individual nutrients. Some nutrients including fat soluble vitamins A, E and D can be stored in the body and cause toxicity. Make sure that you review all vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements with your medical provider.

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