The dietary supplement industry rakes in $30 billion every year. With dedicated retail stores such as GNC, entire aisles in pharmacies and supermarkets, and various online options, this is a big business. But will that multivitamin actually improve your health? The evidence is limited at best, and yet half of us take a pill.
The top 3 supplements by revenue are:
- Omega 3
A recent article in JAMA Internal Medicine explores the reasons for our seemingly illogical decision to spend $200 per person a year on supplements. Over 10,000 people answered questions on this matter between 2007-2010, and here are the results:
- 45% hoped the supplements would improve their health
- One third hoped they would maintain their health
- 18% of men hoped to improve heart health and lower cholesterol
- 36% of women specified bone health as their reason for calcium supplementation
- Here’s the kicker – in only 1 out of 4 cases was a health professional involved in the decision to purchase a supplement.
Interestingly enough, there was a high correlation between healthy lifestyle and supplementation.
The position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is that we get our nutrients from food, not pills. There is leeway for people with certain deficiencies as well as a general recommendation to get vitamin D for those of us who live in dark cold regions of the country, without too much sunlight in the winter.
Without getting into the debate on the efficacy or not of the pretty pills we buy, let’s think for a minute about the nomenclature – “supplements“. A supplement is something that may be added, not something that replaces real nutrients from whole foods. Eating nutrient poor fast food and snacks each day – and supplementing – will NOT make you healthier.
Multivitamins usually have 10-20 nutrients. But there are thousands of nutrients in each fruit or vegetable we eat that science has yet to fully understand. Not to mention how they all work together. Isolating a few of the nutrients while disregarding the others may be the reason that many of the promises on the supplement packaging never come true.
What to do at the supermarket:
Buy lots of fruits and vegetables. If you think they’re too expensive, consider the extra $$$ as money not spent on supplements, medications, and future doctors’ visits. You can buy frozen produce at lower prices.