The Wild West of Dietary Supplements

Fruits or multivitamins?


Do you regularly take a multivitamin or other supplement? If yes, you are most likely throwing away your money. A recent edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine included no less than 3 articles on this topic.

The first was a systematic review of trials to see if vitamin supplements were of any use in preventing or slowing down chronic disease. The test group was large – 400,000 people – and the results showed no clear evidence that supplements were effective.

In a second test conducted on 6,000 elderly men, multivitamins were shown to be no better than a placebo in cognitive performance and verbal memory.

You get the point. The dietary supplement industry is worth close to $30 billion a year. That’s about $400 a year for a family of four. The industry has extremely effective marketing and PR machines that convince us that supplements will make our life better. However, evidence repeatedly shows that this is not the case.

In some cases, supplements may even cause damage. See yesterday’s New York Times article on youths who suffered liver damage after consuming “fat-burning” supplements.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends we get our nutrients from real foods. So do we.

In some cases, supplementation may be necessary, but don’t take this route unless you really must. Rely on real foods to get much more nutrients than a multivitamin could ever provide.

You know the drill: Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Enjoy nuts, seeds, and legumes. And try a variety of whole grains. Not too hard, is it?

  • stardust

    I agree! I find that multivitamins constipate me anyway LOL!

  • Catherine

    I agree that people shouldn’t just eat whatever and then pop a pill thinking they are getting the nutrients that way but two specific supplements have most definitely helped me with two health issues so I take them (symptoms return if I stop and go away when I take them – not a scientific enough analysis for some but it works for me). Not to mention the number of people living through long, dark winters that benefit from a Vit. D supplement. I think there are definitely cases where it can help but I also agree that taking them as some sort of insurance because you aren’t eating well would not be the smartest choice.

  • Max_Freedom

    Any ideas on a natural source of Vitamin D? How can you possibly obtain the recommended amount?
    There is no sun here.

    • Audrey


      • Austin

        No one should be drinking four cups of milk a day to get 100% amount of Vitamin D.

        • Max_Freedom

          Yes! There’s no way you can safely consume enough milk and fish to get a beneficial amount of D. I avoid dairy anyway.

      • Max_Freedom

        I don’t drink milk, and avoid dairy in general. I also don’t understand how adding the vitamins to a food is any different than taking vitamins separately(I know that fat helps the absorption).

    • Carol H

      If you don’t eat fatty fish like salmon, or foods fortified with D, and you don’t get a little sun exposure every week, then you probably should take a supplement.

  • GeorgeS

    What about folic acid supplementation for woman of child bearing age?

    • Max_Freedom

      This article, and the study is dangerously irresponsible. It was about chronic disease.
      Natural sources are usually best, but it’s still needed one way or the other.

    • Max_Freedom

      This article and study is dangerously irresponsible.
      The study was about chronic disease, and doesn’t apply to anything else.
      Folic acid is an essential, that’s why it’s in Prenatal Vitamins.

    • Fooducate

      Go for it.

  • Cello

    What did the third study say? Don’t leave stuff out and say we “get the point.” I want to know.

  • dswood1

    Pretty irrational article, with no detail on how the “studies” were conducted. Certainly, supplements are overly used, especially in the US. They should never be used as a diet mainstay or by people who think they can eat crap and supplement with vitamins and be just fine. However, how many people, Americans especially really have a clue what a good diet includes? Many do, but as a whole we’re the sickest, most unfit global population, and supplements probably should have more of a part than they do. Look to for quite a different view on this article. “Fooducate” took a step down with this article IMHO.

    • Fooducate

      The website you refer to pimps vitamins supplements as a way of life. Is it more credible than peer reviewed research? Fooducate has no financial interest either way. Do you?

      • dswood1

        no, certainly not. If you look further, there is ample research…peer reviewed and otherwise. The website I mentioned also has no financial ties or interest either. No ads paying their authors. However, dig deeper into who supplied/supported the research you are referring to. The FDA/USDA was all over last week’s headlines that I am sure you are loosely referring to in your very quick article. When you go to the website you referenced in your opening paragraph, the fact that you have big pharma pop up ads, banner ads, screaming at you, I think that’s pretty clear who pays their bills. I ran through 7 of the names on the very long list of staff at the Annals website, and each one of the 7 I looked up were tied to or directly employed by big pharma. Not a great source of info on vitamins, when vitamins are not a part of their corporate revenue stream.

        Look up any vitamin supplement in the data that the poison control center lists as causes of death….almost none…..literally almost zero are from vitamins. Then look how may pharmaceuticals cause death each year….when properly prescribed no less. It makes me wonder about the doctors Hippocratic oath of first doing no harm,

        I liked the premise Fooducate was started on (and still do!!), as listed in your “about us” page but think the tone and quick note in this bashing of vitamins post was not fitting of your roots.

        • Vanna

          That guy posts anti-vaccination junk on his site. THAT is dangerous, misleading, and inaccurate! Oh sure, vitamin C can protect against polio and eradicate stage three cancer. Honesty, these “functional health practitioners” peddle sciency-sounding woo. They can be just as self-interested or so drenched in their political ideology that they are effectively anti-scientific. Their treatments rest on foundations that are either unproven, debunked, or offer no significant positive effect. That is why I follow the skeptic movement online. For anyone else there’s skepdoc,, quackwatch, and

          • Vanna

            I’d also like to add that because of the 1994 Dietary Supplement and Health and Education Act supplements don’t have to prove their safety, efficacy, or even the quantities of their touted ingredients. Most of this industry actually is owned by big pharmaceutical firms cashing in on the natural medicine craze so everything is a racket essentially. There’s a good opinion piece about this on Aljazeera America by Lynn Parramore.

  • Karen

    Yes and how much is the pharmaceutical industry worth? The only problem with vitamin supplementation is that people are only advised to take just enough to prevent historical epidemics such as rickets and not enough to keep them healthy. It may also be worth looking at who funds the Annals of Internal MEDICINE!

    • Fooducate

      We’re not talking about pharma vs. supplement industry. Eat real food as a way to avoid both.

      • Karen

        Yes but the point I was trying to make was that the evidence in the paper suggests that vitamin supplementation is of no use in reducing or slowing down the current epidemic of chronic diseases which I and many others acknowledge can be largely attributed to lifestyles today. This alone indicates that people are not getting sufficient vitamins and minerals from the food they eat, let alone the fact that the current farming and manufacturing processes are leaving people severely malnourished in these times of excess. Vitamin therapy may be one way to address this imbalance and papers such as these which are misinterpreted even more in the press will again add to the confusion surrounding food and health.

        • Fooducate

          You are correct that modern lifestyles are problematic. People need to spend more time preparing and eating real food instead of stripped down “products” that can be heated in the microwave. Instead they are led to believe they can continue with their lifestyle and supplement with pills. Win-win for junk food companies and the supplement companies.

  • Esnus

    Instead of providing relevant information this sound piece spouts misleading allegations and distortions about dietary supplements. Like most propaganda pieces, the writer doesn’t actually scrutinize the mainstream hype against supplements but simply repeats it.

    Anyone who’s not lazy enough to look a bit deeper, however, will recognize that most supplement-bashing news and “studies” are all about politics rather than sound science (for instance, google/bing “2 Big Lies: No Vitamin Benefits & Supplements Are Very Dangerous by Rolf Hefti”).

    No one with common sense would tell anyone that vitamins are meant to replace real food – only people and groups who are either ignorant or have a political agenda to denounce the value of supplements.