It’s time to ditch your dietary supplements
It's time to let go of those vitamins in your cupboard as a new health study suggests they do nothing for your health and are mostly a waste of money. A study of 179 randomized-controlled trials (the gold standard of medical research) published this week in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that popular supplements like Vitamin C and calcium are usually worthless unless you have a specific deficit of that vitamin. Vitamin C may be required to prevent scurvy in 18th-century sailors, but most individuals nowadays obtain enough vitamins from their food. The researchers looked into the effects of vitamin and mineral supplements on heart disease, stroke, and premature mortality. Dr. David Jenkins, the study's lead author, expressed astonishment that the most often consumed supplements had so few favorable impacts. However, certain less common supplements did have an effect. Although the evidence is sparse, folic acid appears to reduce the risk of heart disease (a good thing), and too much folic acid may increase the chance of cancer. Antioxidants and niacin were found to raise the chance of death by a little amount (a bad thing). Some people take vitamins at their doctor's suggestion, but many others just take them because they think they'll make them healthier. Calcium and vitamin D pills, which are frequently suggested to older Australians to avoid osteoporosis, have been found to be of little help to healthy adults, according to a recent study published in the Medical Journal of Australia. Calcium pills may, in fact, be doing more damage than good. While the nutrients are vital in and of themselves, the researchers discovered that calcium and vitamin D supplementation did not lower fracture risk or enhance bone density in healthy older adults. Vitamin D was found to be mostly ineffective as a "general tonic" in people who were not vitamin D deficient (or at risk of becoming deficient). Supplements have the potential to cause harm Calcium and vitamin D supplements are frequently given combined to prevent and treat osteoporosis, which occurs when the body loses minerals like calcium faster than it can replace them. Previous studies on these supplements have yielded mixed outcomes. However, according to a recent assessment that looked at the overall safety and effectiveness of supplements, calcium supplementation has a limited place in modern medicine. "It makes no material difference to the amount of fractures that occur when you give more calcium to otherwise healthy adults living in the community," says main author Ian Reid, a professor of medicine and endocrinology at the University of Auckland. Supplementing with vitamin D, on the other hand, is rarely associated with negative health effects. However, there is evidence that high vitamin D levels can raise the risk of falls and fractures. In any case, supplements were proven to be beneficial only in those with vitamin deficiencies, not in the general population of healthy older people, so see your doctor before starting or quitting any supplements. When should they be used? Despite the lack of evidence supporting supplements in the treatment of osteoporosis, Professor Reid believes they should be taken in some cases. "Some of the new medications we're utilizing in osteoporosis have only been evaluated when calcium and vitamin D are given together, so I think we should proceed with caution," he said. In persons who require antiresorptive medications and are at risk of vitamin D insufficiency, calcium and vitamin D supplements are acceptable. "However, for the most regularly used medications, it appears to make no difference; as long as your vitamin D levels are adequate, not administering calcium has no effect on the efficacy of those drugs," Professor Reid says. Vitamin D supplementation is also recommended for weak older persons who are in danger of vitamin D insufficiency, as well as people who cover their bodies for religious or cultural reasons. The sun is our primary source of vitamin D, and in the summer, the optimal times to get your sun exposure and vitamin D intake are in the mid-morning or mid-afternoon. If your face and arms are exposed, five to fifteen minutes in the sun most days of the week should do for persons with fair skin. It's less for people with very fair skin, and it can take a little longer for people with a darker complexion.