Roughly 23,000 people end up in a U.S. emergency room every year from a preventable cause.
While the symptoms range from vomiting to heart palpitations, the root cause is the same – dietary supplements.
That's according to research from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ("FDA") and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (published in the New England Journal of Medicine).
Supplements are big business. In 2020, supplement sales hit nearly $56 billion in the U.S. alone. Experts predict this to soar to $272 billion in 2028.
The reasons people take supplements are understandable.
A survey from the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health found that:
- 45% of Americans take multivitamins to improve their health.
- 33% of Americans take multivitamins to maintain their health.
- Only 23% of people taking multivitamins do so with the advice of their doctor.
Many of these people are wasting their money... and worse, harming their health.
The marketing for these pills implies that they are medical treatments... but they aren't regulated like medications. No one's checking the health claims, many of which are pure marketing fiction. And worse, the supplements contain ingredients and substances that are different from what's on the label.
A study published in JAMA revealed that 776 dietary supplements tested by the FDA between 2007 and 2016 contained pharmaceutical-grade drugs.
Taking supplements laced with prescription drugs just leads to trouble. You could set yourself up for dangerous side effects, medication interactions, or worse. And people often fail to mention any supplements they take when talking to their doctor because most folks just consider supplements "safe." After all, the nutrition in these pills is similar to real food, right?
In most cases, you're far better off dumping your supplements and meeting your nutritional needs with healthy, whole foods – starting with your vegetables.
Many vegetables (and fruits) are packed with phytochemicals – molecules that can help protect our bodies and preserve our health. Some even protect us from cancer. Supplements try to duplicate these phytochemicals to have the same effects. But whole foods are the best way to get what you need... a supplement just can't replace the nutrients in real food.
There's lots of research showing the health benefits of phytochemicals in whole foods.
The most well-known phytochemical (and popular supplement, as well) is lycopene, the chemical found in red fruits and vegetables. About 80% of all lycopene that Americans eat is from tomatoes and tomato products.
The evidence for lycopene came in a review published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. In it, researchers evaluated several key cancer studies. Across the board, higher levels of lycopene in a person's diet lowered their risk for lung, stomach, and prostate cancers.
Since then, doctors have found that lycopene helps fight off free radicals that can damage your cells. Lycopene also plays an important role in protecting your DNA from damage – a problem that can lead to cancer-causing mutations.
And according to the American Institute for Cancer Research, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, and turnips all protect against colon cancer.
Cruciferous veggies contain a compound called glucosinolate, which helps reduce inflammation (a contributor to cancer). They also have high levels of folate, which protects DNA from damage.
Much of the most recent research indicates that eating a variety of fruits and vegetables will provide the most benefits. This is because many phytochemicals are not well understood and may, in fact, be interacting with each other to boost their overall protection.
In fact, a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in 2014 suggests that eating up to seven servings of fruits and vegetables per day lowers your risk of dying from any cause. The study found that seven servings of fruits and vegetables lowered participants' risk of mortality from any cause by 24%.
But it also noted it was likely the vegetables that were doing the work. I concur. Make at least four of those servings of vegetables. Keep in mind, one serving is a half-cup of cooked vegetables or a full cup of raw vegetables.
As for fish oil, a 2013 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that getting your omega-3s – a type of essential fatty acid – from supplements doesn't give you the same benefits as getting them directly from a whole-food source...
Researchers studied more than 12,000 people at high risk of suffering from a cardiovascular event taking either a fish oil supplement or a placebo. Between the two groups, there was no difference in the risk of hospitalization or death from heart attack or stroke
Past studies show getting omega-3 fatty acids from fish (the whole-food form) reduces your risk of dying of a heart attack by 30% or more. The researchers in the supplement study believe that while omega-3s found in food have value, the supplements don't.
So try to add more of these cancer fighters to your diet. Sneaking extra veggies into your meals isn't hard like adding kale to your morning smoothie. And make sure you're eating whole fish, not taking supplements. I prefer eating real fish. I eat salmon or light tuna.
What We're Reading...
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
September 2, 2021