More than 86 percent of Americans take some form of over-the-counter vitamin or supplement in attempt to improve their health. After all, it can’t hurt — right?
Unfortunately, no. Taking vitamins does come at a cost.
According to a recent survey on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association, only about a quarter of people (24 percent) actually received test results indicating a nutritional deficiency.
“Numerous investigations show the alleged benefits are unproven and in the worst cases, vitamins and supplements can be harmful,” said Mike Varshavski, DO, an osteopathic family physician.
People with documented nutritional deficiencies can most often and most effectively correct the problem with a change in diet. Since supplements don’t work as well as most people assume, taking vitamins can distract or deter people from taking other steps to treat their ailments, like improving nutrition or moderate exercise.
As the multibillion dollar vitamin industry grows, Dr. Varshavski says it’s important to consider that all of the money spent on supplements could be used to purchase and add high nutrition foods to a patient’s diet instead, which is more likely to promote better overall health.
Supplements have also been shown to decrease the effectiveness of other common medications including insulin, alprazolam (Xanax), and warfarin.
“Most people have no need to take vitamins and are wasting their money on supplements that are unlikely to improve their healthy and may actually harm it,” said Varshavski.
The study found that 13 percent of Americans choose their vitamins based off of what they found interesting in stores. Another 13 percent purchased vitamins based on the recommendations from a trainer, and six percent based their choices off of endorsements by celebrities or influencers.
“Obviously, there is a great need for real education on this topic, even among health care professionals,” said Dr. Varshavski.
Of course, physicians do sometimes prescribe vitamins. There is some peer-reviewed evidence supporting vitamins for pregnant woman and people with intestinal malabsorption syndrome. So before you start or stop any vitamins or supplements, always talk to a doctor — or two.
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