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Around the world, the current pace and lifestyle make it difficult to take the time to cook or buy fresh food for every meal. In an attempt to fill nutritional gaps and maintain good health, many people are now turning to dietary supplements. Depending on the circumstances and deficiencies, these substances can be beneficial, but they can also be useless or even become harmful to health, especially without a medical prescription. A new analysis by a group of US Public Health Services (USPSTF) researchers has shown that for healthy people, the benefits of a healthy diet cannot be obtained by taking dietary supplements. In short, in the majority of cases, it would be a waste of money and time.
Trace elements and vitamins are undeniably beneficial to health, thanks to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Contained in fresh food products (fruits, vegetables, fish, milk, etc.), they can even prevent cancer and heart disease.
Many factors, including lack of time or financial means, can hinder access to a balanced diet. Moreover, quality products such as organic products are sometimes much more expensive than the average, aggravating the lack of access to healthy food. This trend is visible all over the world and especially in developing countries.
In an attempt to maintain good health, some people therefore turn to food supplements, especially on sale in pharmacies. In addition, many of them tend to think that these supplements are harmless, and often do without medical prescriptions. The toxicity and adverse effects of these substances are notably little studied, compared to “real drugs”.
In rich countries, however, taking supplements may be motivated by other objectives such as slimming diets, maintaining muscle tone, hair care, etc. In the United States, for example, more than half of adults consume it for these various reasons. Marketing budgets and profits generated by the sale of dietary supplements are in the billions of dollars. In 2021, the sector’s sales reached $50 billion, for a marketing budget of $900 million.
Today, a group of experts from Northwestern University revealed that these substances provide almost no benefit to health, and on the contrary can harm it, without responsible recommendation. Taken in excess, certain vitamins, for example, can become toxic. The new analyses, presented in the edition JAMA Networkhave made it possible to draw up new recommendations.
Take only under the right circumstances
The reviews were conducted by a panel of 16 medical experts and included 84 studies of supplement use. 54 of them were published after an initial set of recommendations from the USPSTF in 2014.
Following the evaluations, the experts particularly advise against the use of supplements based on beta-carotene for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases or cancer. Isolated or artificially synthesized, this pigment (found in red and orange fruits and vegetables) can increase mortality from heart disease and the risk of lung cancer. Vitamin E supplements are also discouraged, as they would have no clear benefit in preventing the two diseases. In the case of multivitamins, there would also be no concrete health benefits, although experts believe that the analyzes are not sufficiently provided with data.
” For most vitamin and mineral supplements, including combinations like multivitamins, we did not find enough evidence to recommend or advise against their use in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer, with a few exceptions. says Michael Barry, vice president of the USPSTF.
What you need to know is that the vitamins and trace elements contained in fruits, vegetables, milk, are mixtures of complex chemical and natural compounds of fibers and other nutrients which would act in synergy to offer their health benefits. In addition, isolated micronutrients may act differently in the body when they are not coated with other synthetic substances such as excipients. Osteopaths also recommend to prefer dairy products to tablets to obtain calcium.
Taking food supplements would only provide a false sense of security in the majority of cases (without prescription). ” We find that vitamins and supplements, unfortunately, are not a magic bullet for healthy Americans. says Jenny Jia, lead author of the analysis and researcher in Northwestern’s Department of Preventive Medicine.
However, these recommendations are only valid for healthy people, and are different for pregnant women and people with deficiencies. In pregnant women, for example, it is recommended to take folic acid, or vitamin B (up to 0.4 to 0.8 mg per day), to prevent neural tube defects. Iron is also recommended to prevent premature births and low birth weight, as well as to improve the brain development of the fetus.