Americans Waste Billions Every Year on Unnecessary Supplements, Scientists Warn

For years scientists have said there isn’t much evidence to recommend vitamin supplements for most people, with a growing body of research suggesting that most pills are unnecessary and don’t necessarily make us in better health.

However, the message did not get through. More than half of American adults taking dietary supplements regularly, fueling an industry worth about 50 billion US dollars per year.

Enough is enough, say the researchers. In the latest repudiation of vitamin supplements, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has now released new recommendationsformally stating that there is insufficient evidence to suggest that supplements provide benefits for preventing cardiovascular disease and cancerthe two leading causes of death in the United States.

The new USPSTF recommendations – the first for vitamin supplements since 2014 – were not taken lightly, but only after considering 84 studies evaluating the effects of supplements, encompassing nearly 740,000 participants in total.

“Unfortunately, based on the existing evidence, the task force cannot recommend for or against the use of most vitamins and minerals and calls for more research,” said John Wong, acting chief science officer of the USPSTF.

There are, however, some important caveats to keep in mind, as not all conclusions were equivocal.

The new recommendations regarding insufficient evidence of benefit only apply to healthy adults without nutritional deficiencies – and do not apply to people who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, who are recommended to take supplements of folic acid.

Additionally, while the USPSTF found that the evidence was generally unclear for supplements intended for healthy, non-pregnant adults, for two products in particular the data was less ambiguous: vitamin E and beta. -carotene, the intake of which is not recommended. .

“We found that there is no benefit to taking vitamin E and that beta-carotene may be harmful because it increases the risk of lung cancer in people already at risk,” said Michael Barry, vice president of the USPSTF.

Other than these limitations, however, the new recommendations essentially reaffirm what many scientists have been telling us for years – there is no real evidence that these pills are good for us.

But at the same time – barring exceptional cases, such as when supplements are tainted with hidden pharmaceutical ingredients – there’s also not much to suggest they’re bad for us either.

“The task force doesn’t say ‘Don’t take a multivitamin'”, said clinician Jeffrey Linder, chief of general internal medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University.

“But there’s this idea that if it was really good for you, we would know by now.”

Linder, co-author of a new editorial commentary on supplement use and new USPSTF recommendations, says there are good reasons people think supplements will be good for their health.

“Theoretically, vitamins and minerals have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that should decrease the development of cardiovascular disease and cancer,” commented the commentary, co-authored by Northwestern University researchers Jenny Jia and Natalie Cameron. Explain.

“Fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with a decrease in cardiovascular disease and cancer risk. It is reasonable to think that essential vitamins and minerals could be extracted from fruits and vegetables, packaged into a pill, and that people could avoid the difficulty and expense of maintaining a balanced diet.”

Unfortunately, not all the evidence we have really supports this hypothesis, suggesting that, for reasons we do not yet fully understand, micronutrients isolated from other natural food components do not appear to provide the same health benefits as when they are bundled up and eaten in food.

Even more unfortunately, the dietary supplement industry exploits people’s misunderstanding of this ambiguous point, spending hundreds of millions of dollars every year to perpetuate false beliefs about the powers of vitamin pills.

It’s not just money at stake either. Scientists fear that people’s health is also at risk, simply because there is a significant opportunity cost every time a patient’s attention is misdirected – evidence-based healthcare losing out. to endless snake oil formulations.

“[Patients are] wasting money and focusing on thinking there must be some magic set of pills that will keep them healthy when we should all be following the evidence-based practices of healthy eating and exercising” , Linder says.

“The harm is that talking to patients about supplements during the very limited time we have to see them misses guidance on how to really reduce cardiovascular risk, such as through exercise or quitting smoking.”

The new recommendations are published in JAMAaccompanied by a research overview behind the recommendations, and the accompaniments editorial article.

Leave a Comment