Do Dietary Supplements Offer Health Benefits?

People take supplements to make sure they get enough essential nutrients and to maintain or improve their health. But not everyone needs to take supplements. A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine concludes that the “use of dietary supplements is not associated with mortality benefits among U.S. adults.“ What does this mean for people who purchase and consume daily vitamins? The results of the data in this study suggest getting the nutrients you need from food is better than taking supplements.

The data, however, did not include people with nutritional needs different from those of the general population or those who were deficient in specific vitamins. For example, I eat a primarily plant-based diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and occasional fish. Although this sounds like a balanced diet, I was tested a few years ago for vitamin D deficiency and found that I was six percent of the daily recommended intake. Vitamin D is not naturally present in many foods, yet it is produced internally when ultraviolet rays from the sun hit the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis. Knowing that insufficient vitamin D may make bones thin, brittle, or misshapen, my doctor suggested a supplement. I purchased a good quality supplement from Nordic Naturals.

 I also take vitamin B12 since it is naturally found in animal products, and I do not eat meat and limit my intake of animal products. It is also added to certain foods such as fortified cereals and nondairy milk. Vitamin B12 has many roles in your body. It supports the normal function of your nerve cells and needed for red blood cell formation, anemia prevention, and DNA synthesis. An early sign of vitamin B12 deficiency is fatigue or lack of energy, but testing through your doctor is the best way to find out if you are deficient.

Many people take supplements to improve their health, but there is limited evidence that they offer any significant health benefits. A study published by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that the four most commonly used supplements — multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin C — did not protect against cardiovascular disease.

Most supplements are safe to take, although not regulated by the FDA. Of course, there are possible health risks, for example (from Harvard Health Publishing):

•    High doses of beta carotene have been linked to a greater risk of lung cancer in smokers.

•    Extra calcium and vitamin D may increase the risk of kidney stones.

•    High doses of vitamin E may lead to a stroke caused by bleeding in the brain.

•    Vitamin K can interfere with the anti-clotting effects of blood thinners.

•    Taking high amounts of vitamin B6 for a year or longer has been associated with nerve damage that can impair body movements (the symptoms often go away after the supplements are stopped).

The bottom line is that taking dietary supplements is not a substitute for a healthy balanced diet unless you test for a vitamin or mineral deficiency. Eating a variety of healthy foods every day is the best way to get enough essential nutrients.

Quote of the week: Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

Recipe of the Week: Quinoa & Chickpea Salad (recipe adapted by Helene Spoto)

Summer is right around the corner and this salad is easy to make without heating up your house. Quinoa is a powerful source of plant-based protein. When you add chickpeas, crunchy vegetables, parsley and lemon, whether you are a vegan, vegetarian or meat-eater, you’ll enjoy a light and satisfying salad.

Ingredients:

1 cup quinoa, uncooked (rinsed and drained)

2 cups water

1-15 ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 1/2 cups English cucumber, diced

3/4 cup red pepper, diced

1/2 cup red onion, finely minced

1 cup parsley, chopped

3 Tablespoons olive oil

3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 cloves garlic, pressed

Salt and pepper to taste

Quinoa preparation: In a saucepan, mix the rinsed quinoa with the water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat until it starts to boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook the quinoa, uncovered, for about 15 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat, cover and allow it to steam for 5 minutes. Then, fluff with a fork and let it cool.

In a large bowl, mix the chickpeas, vegetables and parsley with a large spoon and set aside.

In a small bowl or shaker bottle, add the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper. Whisk or shake until thoroughly blended.

Add the cooled quinoa to the large bowl and toss with the dressing until combined.

Cover for 10 minutes at room temperature to allow the flavors to intensify.

Published by

Leslie Ouellette

Listening and learning about nutrition, exercise, and health-related issues has been a life-long passion turned into action. I am most passionate about my family, friends, and good health. I am a business professional with over 30 years of expertise in marketing, market research, communications, writing, and editing. @balancedhealthblog

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