In an effort to cheat the inevitable, each weekday morning I get out of bed and swallow a handful of pills. Then I eat a banana, drink some orange juice and head to the gym for a workout. At lunch I take calcium, vitamin D3 and a glucosamine-chondroitin pill, repeating the performance with dinner.
After believing for all these years I was making myself healthier, new articles seem to shoot down the worth of vitamins and supplements. Some maintain that people who use them are actually not as healthy. Others report we cannot count on the safety and true nature of many of the vitamins and supplements we are consuming.
In an increasingly more complex world, it is becoming more difficult to sort out the truth of what should be done.
Thousands of articles pro and con on the subject can be found, especially online. I feel the following two articles are worth checking into.
The first was “Enough is Enough”, published in December 2013 in the annals of Internal Medicine, and basically says the case is closed. The article at annals.org states, “Evidence is sufficient to advise against routine supplementation, and we should translate negative findings into action. The message is simple: Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided.”
They address this to a people who are generally well-nourished, saying there is no clear benefit in using (most) vitamin and mineral supplements and the use could possibly be harmful.
The second, an in-depth article on supplements by Alison Young for USA Today, also in December, was enlightening and also disturbing.
A summation of the article content states:
An "array of dietary supplement firms caught with drug-spiked products are run by people with criminal backgrounds and regulatory run-ins."
Dangerous ingredients are often listed under aliases (some "200 different names" for testosterone).
Side effects can range from liver failure and stroke to death.
Regulatory oversight by the FDA is limited and criminal prosecutions are rare.
Supplement industry leaders concede it might be time for more regulatory oversight.
Young quotes Steve Mister, president of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, who says, “It is unfortunately a tale of two industries. There is a mainstream, responsible industry then there is this sort of shadow industry, the smaller guys playing around the fringes. The problem is how we distinguish between the two.”
Thinking about this information gave me pause. If I am having trouble deciding what is best for me at my age after knowing my body all these years, how much more vulnerable are young people? An overweight teen could secretly order something from a magazine, or a young athlete may succumb to a sales pitch for a powder that could damage kidneys. Between the desire to be thin and the power to perform, something sad could occur.
These subjects can be an important conversation we have with our children, grandchildren and others we care about. This information could help change the idea that swallowing something will magically make our bodies more than they are.
Consumers need to be informed and aware and wary of where they buy supplements and who is selling them and just what is in them. We also need to be wary of who is giving us information for consuming these products, especially in large doses.
It has become clear I need to adjust some things in my daily supplement routine. I also realize kale has more vitamin C and less sugar than my orange juice. Just please, people — leave my banana alone.