Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Are Supplements Effective?

I have a confession to make. Each day, ingest at least 10 pills that I think will improve my health or performance. Inside my bathroom mirror, there is a row devoted solely to supplements. There’s a bottle of omega 3 fish oil – good for muscle repair, a daily probiotic for digestion, vitamin d for immune health and bone density, glucosamine for joint repair. The list could go on. And I’m not alone, either. Nearly half of Americans take at least one multivitamin per day. In fact, the vitamin industry as a whole makes $20 billion per year.

But are these vitamins and supplements really contributing to my health, or am I and others just a victim of good marketing and the placebo effect?

About a year ago, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood institute paid for a study to determine whether daily multivitamins could reduce the incidence of major illness in postmenopausal women. This study was the largest of its kind, tracking the health of 162,000 female participants over a period of eight years. According to the report:

“During the eight-year study period, 9,619 cases of breast, colorectal, endometrial, renal, bladder, stomach, lung or ovarian cancer were reported, as well as 8,751 cardiovascular events and 9,865 deaths. The study found no significant differences in risk of cancer, heart disease or death between the multivitamin users and non-users."

What does this mean for you? Well, for one, it means that you could save some money, if you wanted to, at least on multivitamins. Instead, opt for getting your vitamin content from the foods that you eat: dark leafy greens, fruits, whole grains, etc.

To be honest, though, I think I’m going to keep sticking to my vitamin regimen, and here’s why. First, I don’t take a daily multivitamin. I find that, in most multivitamins, the “A to Z” vitamins that each pill contains are rarely 100% of what you need for the day. If I’m going to be eating a healthy diet, then most of that content will come from my food. I do, however, take specific vitamins – for instance, vitamin d – because I feel that my body could use an extra amount. Whether the “issues” I refer to are real or imagined is definitely up for debate, however, I can honestly say that I feel better when I take my vitamins, and that’s worth the money spent.

In his book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, author Michael Pollan writes that it is not so important to take a multivitamin/vitamins daily, but to be the kind of person who takes their vitamins. Take an active role in your health. Be concerned about what you put in your body and how to improve it.


  1. I've made a conscious effort to try to incorporate low-mercury seafoods (anchovies, sardines) into my diet at least once a week to help me get those Omega-3's that contain EPA and DHA, which are missing from veggie and nut sources. I've discovered it's pretty easy...toss them in soup, on a pizza, in a salad, etc. Here's the recipe that got me started, I love it! I sub in a wheat pasta for added fiber and protein.

  2. Yummy! That looks amazing. I'm trying to do some stuff with grains like quinoa instead of rice. Anchovies taste really good when you use them with leafy greens like escarole and endive. When you saute them first before adding the greens, it helps to cut the bitterness.