Each year Americans spend billions of dollars on supplements. The reasons for paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year for a product whose validity and integrity have not been tested vary; some take a multi-vitamin/mineral to “ensure” they receive adequate nutrients, while others turn to so-called natural products for other health reasons. An article in the New York Times describes the major, yet silent, public health problem of supplement use.
Most Americans assume that supplements are natural products, so they must be healthy. First, arsenic is natural, so please don’t assume that natural = healthy. Second, while some supplements may be harmless, this blanket statement should not be made. Two major problems with the supplement industry in American are the lack of regulation and research. Supplements and their health claims are not approved by the FDA, so they do not need to undergo the rigorous research required by pharmaceutical companies. In addition, the potency/purity of supplements is not regulated; you could be taking a multivitamin that says contains 15mg vitamin E, but the product may only contain 10mg and/or may use a less-biologically active version of vitamin E. In the end you may have been better off just eating some roasted nuts!
In general, supplements are not needed as most Americans can obtain the nutrients they need from food alone. Given the cost of supplements, it would make much more sense for someone to use that money to buy fresh, healthy food and obtain their nutrients the the natural way. However, some individuals still desire to try supplements. Always be sure to talk with your doctor before starting a supplement as some supplements interfere with medications. In addition, do your research and check out the following websites: