Studies Suggest Supplements are Frivolous

Over half the adult population takes one or more supplement, but do they actually do anything?

What's the difference? / Image: Paul Rogers
What's the difference? / Image: Paul Rogers

A recent New York Times piece referenced several studies that suggest supplements have little value. The passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act in 1994 allowed companies to bring supplements to market without submitting evidence that the actually work to the FDA. As long as the products are promoted as “supporting” health, they’re good to go. One study showed overall use of supplements remained steady from 1999 through 2012 and the author found it surprising sales didn’t increase due to paid advertisements and testimonials on the internet.

Another study found that 45% of supplement consumers take them to “improve” overall health, while 33% do so to “maintain” it. Nutritionists are quick to note that no pill can sufficiently replace wholesome foods, noting that a pill containing the recommended daily dose of calcium would be too big to swallow. When assessing the health benefits of supplements, it’s important to take into account the demographic of steady users. Studies have shown supplement users are more likely to be in good health, drink and smoke less, exercise frequently, and have health insurance.

Dr. Pieter A. Cohen, author of a piece titled “The Supplement Paradox: Negligible Results, Robust Consumption,” notes “supplements are essential to treat vitamin and mineral deficiencies,” but adds, “for the majority of adults, supplements likely provide little, if any, benefit.”

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