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19 Vitamin & Mineral Supplements: What Works And What’s Bogus

Posted by Jerry De Luca on Tuesday, September 30, 2014

vitamins minerals

Vitamin A
Several meta-analysis and sound clinical trials have found no benefits for taking Vitamin A supplements unless a physician diagnoses a deficiency, which is rare. Ingesting too much daily Vitamin A by combining a high dosage pill and a regular diet may weaken bones and obstruct the function of Vitamin D in some people. A balanced diet including carrots, dairy products and fish oils provide all the Vitamin A we need.

Vitamin B 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 12
These supplements are useless for anyone who eats a regular healthy diet that includes meat, eggs and dairy products. Vegans and vegetarians can benefit from the supplement unless they’re sure they are getting these vitamins in sufficient quantities from their particular diets. Claims that these supplements can help mental function and prevent stroke and heart disease have never been proven in clinical trials.

Vitamin C
Guavas, red and green peppers, kiwis, oranges, grapefruit, strawberries and quality vegetable juices are an embarrassingly rich source of this important vitamin, making supplements unnecessary for most. In spite of claims by the legendary Linus Pauling and other advocates, Vitamin C supplements do not prevent colds. There is some (a scarcity) of evidence that they may lessen their duration and acuteness. Claims that taking large daily doses will prevent cancer fall into the category of quack medicine.

All the chromium our body needs is easily covered by an adequate diet of fruits and veggies. Many take the supplements persuaded by claims that the pills will reduce insulin insensitivity, lessens the risk of a heart attack and burn fat. None of these claims have been proven in numerous clinical trials.

Vitamin E
All the Vitamin E our body needs is sufficiently supplied in a healthy diet, particularly from vegetables, nuts and seeds. Health scammers claim that taking large daily doses of the supplement can prevent cancer and other diseases. Not only are these claims unsupported, but there is a growing body of evidence that large daily doses will increase the risk of prostate cancer. Claims that Vitamin E supplements will help alleviate dementia, macular degeneration and heart disease are also false. The supplement is only needed for the few diagnosed with a Vitamin E deficiency, which would be caused by another illness.

Salmon and dairy products are a great source of calcium so most people could do without the supplements. For vegans and the lactose intolerant in many cases the supplements are a necessity. The past decade saw medical professionals endorsing calcium supplements for postmenopausal women due to the natural decline of bone mass after the age of 35. However, recent clinical trials and analysis of postmenopausal women found a greater risk of stroke or heart attack for those taking the supplements than those who didn’t. The US Preventive Services Task Force issued the following statement:

 “Vitamin D and calcium are known to play an important role in maintaining health, including bone health. However, despite the large number of studies done there are few conclusive answers about the ability of vitamin D and calcium supplements to prevent fractures. The Task Force has determined the evidence is inconclusive that higher doses of vitamin D and calcium supplements are effective in preventing fractures in postmenopausal women. The evidence was also inconclusive for fracture prevention in men and premenopausal women. What we do know is that doses less than or equal to 400 IU of vitamin D (or 1000 mg of calcium) are not effective at preventing fractures in postmenopausal women.” 

DHEA is a steroid already present and plentiful in our blood, but as for its pill form, promises of this “wonder drug” have been greatly exaggerated. Numerous animal studies have shown some health benefits, but all human trials have failed miserably. A few small trials have found DHEA supplements strengthened bones and fostered soundness of sleep in those over 60. There is a minutia of preliminary evidence causing seismic anticipation and excitement because DHEA may reduce wrinkles. Further tests are needed.      

Vitamin D
Light-skinned people can get all the Vitamin D needed by spending just 5-10 minutes under the summer sun. Darker-skinned people should spend 30-40 minutes. Oily fish, milk, eggs, fortified cereals and beef liver are excellent sources. Most medical guidelines agree Vitamin D supplements are recommended for pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and for almost everyone else living through long winters. Ingesting too many supplements can cause kidney problems. An exhaustive list of the recommended daily dose for adults, children, and a variety of conditions can be found at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/vitamin-d/dosing/hrb-20060400

Fish Oils
More than 10% of Americans take fish oil supplements, believing they benefit the heart. The evidence says otherwise:
"The vast majority of clinical trials involving fish oil have found no evidence that it lowers the risk of heart attack and stroke.From 2005 to 2012, at least two dozen rigorous studies of fish oil were published in leading medical journals, most of which looked at whether fish oil could prevent cardiovascular events in high-risk populations. These were people who had a history of heart disease or strong risk factors for it, like high cholesterol, hypertension or Type 2 diabetes. All but two of these studies found that compared with a placebo, fish oil showed no benefit."

There are no food sources for glucosamine. It is naturally produced in the human body. Marketing of glucosamine supplements have been shown worthy of snake oil salesmen and women. Promises of arthritic pain and inflammation relief have been exposed as false by numerous meta-analyses. In every case no difference was found between the effects of the supplement and a placebo. People with diabetes, hypertension and shellfish allergies shout avoid glucosamine pills. There is also some evidence the supplement inhibits the body from regulating glucose. For more detailed info see: https://sciencebasedpharmacy.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/kicking-glucosamine-to-the-evidence-curb/

Vitamin K
The marketing of Vitamin K supplements is a con worthy of Ocean’s Eleven and The Sting. There just isn’t enough evidence to support the claims that Vitamin K supplements strengthen bones. There have been many incidences of this supplement interfering with blood-thinning prescriptions, so most doctors warn mixing the two. Most leafy greens contain sufficient amounts of Vitamin K.

Folic Acid
The evidence is in that folic acid supplements are useless for the average person. Pregnant women are advised to take 400 to 600 micrograms of folic acid supplements daily to foster a healthy fetus and impede potential abnormalities. Since 1998 the US, Canada and at least 70 other nations have made it mandatory for food manufacturers to fortify all cereals and flour with folic acid. Several kinds of beans like pinto, garbanzo, black, kidney and lentils contain generous amounts of folic acid. So does salmon and leafy greens.

Iron supplements are for the most part worthless for the average person. Adults need only 8 milligrams per day. Sources of iron are plentiful in many foods, including fish, most meats, beans and dried fruit. Pre-menopausal women need 15 milligrams, which is attained in a relatively healthy diet. Drinkers who imbibe a significantly above average amount of daily alcohol may be at risk of taking in too much iron, which can lead to type 2 diabetes and various cancers. People with inflammatory conditions like rheumatism, as well as those taking iron supplements for many years, are also at risk for the consequences of iron overload.

A balanced diet provides the daily 300 milligrams needed for the most adults. People over 70, however, may need more due to their bodies’ difficulty in absorbing magnesium. Many American teenagers have low levels of the mineral due to a diet replete with processed food. Dark, leafy greens like spinach, most nuts, beans and seeds, and fish, especially mackerel, and even dark chocolate, are just a few of the numerous sources rich in magnesium.

High doses of magnesium supplements – 5 grams per day or more – can trigger shortness of breath or a heart attack. Many internet hucksters promote magnesium supplements as an effective way to avoid diabetes, but all the research has negated this. Claims of the mineral alleviating migraines or lowering blood pressure have also never been proven.

Selenium supplements are useless since all a person needs in a single day is found in one little Brazil nut. Most meats, fish, grains, and dairy products also contain various amounts. Much to the irritation of ubiquitous snake oil syndicates, numerous clinical trials have resulted in either no evidence or contradictory findings for claims that the supplement can help prevent various cancers, heart disease, cognitive decline, and thyroid disease.

The 3.5 grams per day of potassium needed is easily accomplished by a reasonably good diet of fresh fruits and vegetables. The plague of processed food in the Western diet inevitably hinders recommended intake. Potassium supplements are prescribed for the odd few whose bodies have difficulty absorbing the mineral. Those taking the supplement who suffer from certain kidney disorders or have high blood pressure should consult a doctor for dosage advice. 

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
Exaggerated and grandiose claims of CoQ10 supplements helping us live longer, increasing energy, and heroically fighting off all cancers and heart disease fail miserably under all the scientific scrutiny. In a few studies, there was minimal but hopeful evidence that the supplement did help immune function in cancer and HIV patients, protected the heart from some chemotherapy drugs, and boosted the heart function of people recuperating from cardiac failure. More testing is required. Our bodies naturally produce CoQ10 and some rich sources are many meats, poultry, fish, seeds, beans, nuts, and soybean and canola oils.

Sales of multivitamins reach $5 billion annually in the US, but the overwhelming evidence and conclusion is that the money used to procure the supplements ends up in the same place as Drano®. People suffering from Crohn’s disease – have difficulty absorbing nutrients – may benefit from the supplements according to a doctor’s instructions. Most multivitamins have high amounts of Vitamin A and E, which can be dangerous for some people.

Zinc is naturally present in various amounts in so many foods that buying supplements would be the equivalent of buying swampland in Florida. The best sources are beef, lamb, spinach, asparagus, and oysters, but the list goes on and on. There has been some evidence that taking a 75 milligram supplement immediately when getting a cold may shorten the cold’s duration, but more rigorous testing is needed.

Primary Source  
Andy Coughlan, Catherine de Lange, et al, “Pills of Wisdom?” New Scientist, 30 August, 2014

Photo: Andreas Feldl (flickr CC)

Jerry De Luca is a Christian freelance writer who loves perusing dozens of interesting and informative publications. When he finds any useful info he summarizes it, taking the main points, and creates a (hopefully) helpful blog post.


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