Vitamin Supplements – Health Benefit or Waste of Money?


Vitamin Supplements – Health Benefit or Waste of Money?

Many of you are taking supplements – and are spending a lot of money to do so. But do you need them? Do they benefit you? And more seriously – are they safe?

In the US market, there are over 90 000 different supplements available, and whilst the South African market is much smaller, there are still a plethora of products promising better heart health, stronger immune systems, improved thinking, increased energy levels…

However, whilst products advertise wonderful health benefits, medical research does not support those claims.

  • A recent study by the American College of Physicians of 43 vitamins and minerals showed that only one seemed to have any protective effect. Their conclusion? Vitamins do not do anything.
  • Medscape Medical News reported that there is no scientific evidence that multivitamin and mineral use reduces the risk of cardiovascular events (heart attacks or strokes).
  • A further large cohort study concludes that, for the general population, taking dietary supplements does not reduce mortality from either cardiovascular disease or cancer.
  • In research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (involving 31 000 subjects), vitamins had no effect on mortality.

The benefits appear to be minimal to non-existent whilst potential harm is real. Most basic vitamins and minerals are presumed to be safe, but bad reactions are possible. Each year, more than 23 000 emergency department visits are directly related to the use of supplements. And yet, despite a lack of proven benefit – and the association with harm in some studies – over half of Americans take supplements to improve their health, accounting for 10 % of overall spending on pharmaceuticals.

Facts about supplements

  • Supplements can contain ingredients that are toxic and may cause harmful reactions with medications or other supplements.
  • Supplements are weakly regulated and undergo little or no government testing for safety or effectiveness.

However, whilst encapsulated nutrients do not do anything, food does! Certain vitamins and minerals do indeed have very important health benefits – but only when taken in the form of food.

  • A balanced diet provides all the vitamins and minerals needed for good health
  • Evidence suggests that our body absorbs nutrients better from food than in supplements.
  • Whole foods provide the amounts and ratios of nutrients that our bodies can use most efficiently.

When to consider taking a supplement

  • You are – or are planning to become pregnant. (I am hoping that this is not applicable to anyone at The Somerset!)
  • You have osteoporosis – and are not able to get enough calcium or vitamin D in your diet.
  • You have a measured vitamin B12 deficiency.You have a GI condition or have had bariatric surgery.

To read more about Health Care at The Somerset, click here.

Author: Sister Erika Janutsch : Nursing Manager at The Somerset

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