Supplements: a blessing and a curse. Dietary supplements have been used for decades to assist in prevention of nutritional deficiencies and serve as ergogenic aids for athletes. In 2010, the supplement industry racked in $28 BILLION dollars!  As health awareness continues to grow, so does the demand for dietary supplements. Yet, are these supplements even worth your pretty penny?
Let’s take a look at the research…
Eliseo and colleagues reviewed 3 trials of multi-vitamins and 24 trials of single/paired vitamins that were randomly assigned to over 400,000 participants. They found that there was NO clear benefit on “all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, cancer, cognitive performance, or verbal memory.” Another 2013 study found that supplementation with vitamins and antioxidants was not associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular events (i.e. heart attack, arrhythmia’s, coronary artery disease, cancer, etc.). A 2002 estimate reported that over 38.2 million adults use herbs and supplements, with multi-vitamins and multi-minerals being the most common. Not only is there possibly no reported benefit of many supplements on the market, but are we even truly aware of what’s in these bottles?
A 2009 report indicated that more than 140 products tested were contaminated with ingredients rejected by the FDA for not being safe. In 2010, The US Government Accountability Office reported that lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium, and pesticides were found in 93% of the 40 dietary supplements tested. In 2011, 73% of supplement manufacturers failed to adhere to 1 or more regulation when inspected by the FDA (Federal Drug Administration). Put aside the worry that you may be wasting your money on supplements that don’t even work, but more importantly, these supplements may even be causing detrimental health issues for you. The reason being that so many supplement manufacturers can get away with selling poor quality supplements is because supplements are not regulated by the FDA. The FDA can only remove a supplement off the market if they have clear evidence that it is “unsafe.” Therefore, it is up to us, the consumer, to regulate where and what we buy!
It should be noted that it is important that everyone first turn to food to obtain necessary vitamins and minerals. Food is much less potent and a more balanced source of vitamins and minerals than any supplement. Therefore, it is essentially impossible to obtain too much of a single nutrient from food as opposed to supplement form. However, as result to our Westernized diet, many people are in desperate need of nutritional support via supplements. Our soil is not what it once was and therefore the vegetables that we eat are not as nutritious as they were intended to be, our animals are fed genetically modified corn instead of grass, our fish live in polluted waters, and we are constantly exposed to heavy metals, chemicals, and oxidation from the environment. Therefore, supplements are crucial in many people’s health and longevity. When choosing supplements it is important to know what you are looking for in a good, quality product. Be sure not to buy a supplement simply because it had an appealing bottle (we all fall victim to this!), a celebrity athlete takes it, your friend recommended it, or it is the cheapest one on the shelf.
Here are some guidelines to follow next time you are supplement shopping:
Look for third-party verification. Ex: U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, NSF International
Know your dose. Before beginning a particular supplement, do your research to find out what research shows is the most effective dose. It is important to note that some supplements are only shown to be beneficial in men or women, particular sports (endurance vs. strength training), specific forms (liquid vs. capsule, D vs. L configuration- L is ALWAYS most effective) and in conjunction with other lifestyle habits. [Hint: a good Multi-Vitamin should be more than one capsule per day. It is essentially impossible to include several vitamins at sufficient dosage in just 1 capsule.]
Check the ingredients. Does it contain any fillers, binders, or flavorings? A good quality capsule supplement should list only “gelatin capsule” and the supplement components under the ingredients list. Supplements are required by law to state an allergen warning. If you have any allergies to particular foods, be sure to check the allergen warning on the label!
Price check. Most supplements found in health foods stores and vitamin shops are incredibly marked up. If you are trying to save a few dollars, I would advise to shop online first.
Does your supplement stack up?
Image credit: YLM Sport Science
 (Eliseo, Stranges, Mulrow, Appel, & Miller, 2013)
 (Kennedy, J., 2005)
 (Gache et al.,2011)
 (Starr, R. R., 2015)