71.8 F
Sunday, May 28, 2023

Making Vitamins and Dietary Supplements Your Friend, Not  Foe

Fans of “I Love Lucy” will remember the episode when Lucy unwittingly becomes intoxicated after drinking a vitamin supplement with alcohol as its main ingredient. After passing herself off as an experienced television spokeswoman, Lucy struggles to get her lines straight during the filming of the commercial. The problem is, before each take, she is asked to sip a foul-tasting, seven syllable dietary supplement called Vitameatavegamin.

“One spoonful after dinner each night” is advertised to cure everything from unpopularity to listlessness, making people who buy the product feel like the life of the party. 

No surprise the vitamin drink lives up to its claim to put pep back in your step. The supplement is 23% alcohol. The audience bursts into laughter watching Lucy make funny faces and slur her words as the alcohol in Vitameatavegamin begins to keep its promise to lift the spirits—pun intended.  

In real life, the consumption of vitamins and dietary supplements to help us feel better is not played for laughs. It is a big business. According to a report published in the New York Times, “52 percent of the American population use at least one dietary supplement and spend more than $60 billion a year on vitamins, minerals, and herbal products.”  

That’s extraordinary money up for grabs, from the sale of wellness products “that can be brought to market without submitting any evidence to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that they are safe and effective in people, writes Jane Brady, in her NYT article titled “Studies Show Little Benefit in Supplements.”

Brady’s view is mirrored by a NYT editorial entitled “The Supplement Paradox: Negligible Benefits, Robust Consumption” written by Dr. Pieter A. Cohen, of Cambridge Health Alliance and Somerville Hospital Primary Care in Massachusetts.  

While Dr. Cohen acknowledges, “supplements are essential to treat vitamin and mineral deficiencies” and that “certain combinations of nutrients can help some medical conditions, like age-related macular degeneration. He believes “for the majority of adults, supplements likely provide little, if any, benefit.”

There are federal agencies to safeguard our use of vitamins, minerals and organic dietary products. The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is the lead agency. The ODS requires “manufacturers follow good manufacturing practices (GMPs) to ensure the identity, purity, strength, and composition of their products.” 

The FDA “monitors the marketplace for potential illegal products that may be unsafe or make false or misleading claims. If the FDA finds a dietary supplement to be unsafe, it may remove the product from the marketplace or ask the manufacturer to voluntarily recall the product.” 

The Federal Trade Commission, which monitors product advertising, also requires information about a supplement product to be truthful and not misleading. 

NIH advises: “some dietary supplements can help you get adequate amounts of essential nutrients if you don’t eat a nutritious variety of foods. However, supplements can’t take the place of the variety of foods that are important to a healthy eating routine.”

For example: 

● Calcium and vitamin D help keep bones strong and reduce bone loss. 

● Folic acid decreases the risk of certain birth defects.

● Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils might help some people with heart disease. 

● A combination of vitamins C and E, zinc, copper, lutein, and zeaxanthin (known as an AREDS formula) may slow down further vision loss in people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

The OSD notes: “you are most likely to have side effects from dietary supplements if you take them at high doses or instead of prescribed medicines, or if you take many different supplements. Some supplements can increase the risk of bleeding or, if taken before surgery, can change your response to anesthesia. Supplements can also interact with some medicines in ways that might cause problems.”

Here are a few examples from the OSD:

● Vitamin K can reduce the ability of the blood thinner warfarin to prevent blood from clotting.

● St. John’s wort can speed the breakdown of many medicines and reduce their effectiveness (including some antidepressants, birth control pills, heart medications, anti-HIV medications and transplant drugs).

● Manufacturers may add vitamins, minerals, and other supplement ingredients to foods you eat, especially breakfast cereals and beverages. As a result, you may get more of these ingredients than you think, and more might not be better

● Taking more than you need costs more and might also raise your risk of side effects. For example, too much vitamin A can cause headaches and liver damage, reduce bone strength and cause birth defects. Excess iron causes nausea and vomiting and may damage the liver and other organs.

Click Here to See More posts by this Author

Related Articles

Get in Touch


Latest Posts