It must be decades since I first said no one eating a western diet needs supplements. All these years I’ve been spitting in the wind as the value of the supplement industry climbs and climbs.
With the exception of pregnant women, some elderly and people under doctor’s orders no one, repeat no one, needs supplements.
Whatever you want to take in a supplement is best taken in a food.
Our bodies don’t know how to absorb vitamins and minerals from tablets and capsules. They only know about foods so you may be paying through the nose for something that’s ineffective or for a placebo effect.
The American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the United States Preventive Services Task Force have found no role for a one-a-day multivitamin to prevent cancer or heart disease.
Instead, they recommend a balanced diet with a variety of foods as likely to be more effective than any capsule. This ruling excludes people who have a medical need for a supplement.
With our focus on vitamin D, especially in older adults, nearly everyone is taking 1,000 international units every day to help us absorb enough calcium and phosphorus from the diet to keep bones strong. Nonetheless, we have no proof vitamin D supplements prevent fractures.
You should also beware of popping calcium supplements – they raise the risk of a heart attack by about 30% and supplements can also lead to kidney stones and digestive problems.
Then there’s fish oil, usually taken in the hopes of preventing heart disease and cognitive decline. The supplements contain two key omega-3 fatty acids important to brain function and preventing inflammation, a significant factor in heart disease.
But a 2013 study of more than 12,000 patients at high risk of a heart attack found no protection from fish oil supplements. And another major study that year linked fish oil supplements to a raised risk of prostate cancer, especially an aggressive form.
Men are better off getting these fatty acids from a serving or two a week of oily fish.
There seems to be a fad for magnesium too – important for muscle function but at doses above 250 milligrams it can cause diarrhoea and interfere with antibiotics and diuretics.
And studies haven’t shown magnesium supplements can prevent muscle cramps and especially night leg cramps. The best sources of magnesium are still foods like spinach, nuts, legumes and wholegrain cereals.
And stop taking glucosamine/chondroitin. Despite those testimonials you read in ads, the largest controlled trial found no benefit beyond a placebo.