Can Supplements be a Harmful Distraction?

In search of better health, many people take supplements like multivitamins to help prevent chronic illness, boost immunity, or extend lifespan.  But supplements can be expensive, and with tightening budgets, new U.S. Task Force guidance urges people to focus on healthy eating and exercise instead of popping costly vitamins and other off-the-shelf medications to promote better health. 

According to a recent Popular Science article, the United States Preventative Services Task Force researchers have demonstrated a lack of evidence to support the use of multivitamins to support health, extend life or prevent cancer and heart disease.   In fact, the data shows that beta-carotene supplements should be avoided as they may increase the risk for lung cancer. 

The National Center for Health Statistics reported that in 2021, Americans spent an estimated $50 billion on dietary supplements.  More than half of adults take dietary supplements and their use is expected to increase as the population ages. 

The new guidelines note that people with a diagnosed vitamin deficiency should still take the supplements recommended by their doctor; older adults for example, with a vitamin D deficiency, should still take vitamin D supplements to reduce the risk of bone fractures and falls.   Prenatal vitamins also fall outside the task force guidelines and should continue to be taken by those who are pregnant. 

The task force recommendations don’t suggest that everyone should stop taking the multivitamins or supplements they have been using, however, the evidence supports re-evaluating the benefits of supplements.  Some supplements may interact with prescription medications and because they are not regulated as strictly as pharmaceuticals, may cause harm if misused.  Always talk first with your doctor or pharmacist before adding or stopping any supplement or medication. 

Eating a healthy diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, not only provides people with all the necessary vitamins, minerals, and anti-inflammatory benefits, but whole foods also carry other nutrients and fiber that support good health.  Instead of focusing on what pill to pop, researchers hope to encourage people to pay closer attention to eating a nutritious diet and getting regular exercise.  

Instead of spending precious dollars on expensive supplements, the task force report urges people to learn more about healthy eating, get more exercise, stop smoking and maintain a healthy body weight to support longevity and overall health and well-being.