The following post is our point-by-point response to Consumer Reports' September 2012 article, "10 surprising dangers of vitamins and supplements." The bold, numbered sub-headings are the 10 points addressed in the original article. We invite your feedback in the comments section below.
1. Supplements are not risk free
Did you know that there are an average of 3,000 deaths and 128,000 hospitalizations a year from food poisoning? Food is not risk free. Nothing in life is risk free. It is always recommended that you discuss with your healthcare provider before use of any dietary supplement or beginning any new diet/exercise plan.
2. Some supplements are really prescription drugs
If a product contains a drug, then it is not a supplement. Supplements are food, not drugs. These are misbranded and illegal products and the industry strives to remove these adulterated products from the market.
3. You can overdose on vitamins and minerals
Have you ever heard of water intoxication? Yes, it is possible to overdose on water. Can you overdose on vitamins and minerals? Yes, but as long as you are following the suggested use of the product, it is not likely. If used appropriately, supplements should not cause an overdose. Be sure to check the label and be especially careful with fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E & K) as these can be stored by the body.
4. You can’t depend on warning labels
True. It is recommended to discuss all supplement regimens with your healthcare provider and use consumer discretion when choosing a product. It is especially important to discuss with your healthcare provider before beginning a new supplemental plan if you are pregnant or nursing, have a medical condition or taking any prescription medications.
5. None are proven to cure major diseases
Dietary supplements have been clinically shown to support many aspects of health including bone, heart, brain, etc. To say they cure major diseases is not only prohibited, but is not the intent of dietary supplements.
6. Buy with caution from botanicas
We couldn't agree more. It is very important to purchase your dietary supplements from a credible company/brand. We could also say “don’t buy pain killers on the black market or in back alleys,” but some level of common sense usually prevails.
7. Heart protection: not proven
The American Heart Association has recognized the benefit of omega-3 and other supplements for supporting heart health. Along with healthy diet and exercise, supplements have been scientifically shown play an important role in supporting a healthy heart.
You can choke on a supplement…and anything else you swallow as well. Be sure to consume with adequate water.
9. Some natural products are anything but
Again, it is very important to purchase dietary supplements from a credible company. There are very specific guidelines set for production and labeling of supplements. It is important to look for legitimate, compliant companies that follow the rules, laws and guidelines of dietary supplements.
10. You may not need supplements at all
True, in an ideal world. Did you get your five servings of fruits and vegetables, three servings of dairy, six servings of whole grain and lean proteins today? Neither did I. As a Licensed Nutritionist, I would love for everyone to eat healthy enough to not need supplements. That’s just not a reality in today’s busy lifestyle. A basic, high-quality multivitamin is a great way to help fill in the gaps when needed.
There are also many cases where supplements are necessary: prenatal during pregnancy and lactation, Vitamin D in winter months (especially for us up in Fargo, ND!), Vitamin B12 for vegans, etc. All in all, supplements are complements to the diet not substitutes for healthy balanced meals and adequate physical activity.