Updated: Jan 25, 2019
Millions of Americans consume supplements and vitamins each day. Despite that there are many miss-understood facts about supplements and vitamins. Here we describe a few.
Breaking the Myths
1. Supplements are regulated like drugs
Supplements aren't regulated as drugs by the FDA; instead, they are considered foods, hence the name dietary supplements. Supplements don't have to go through the same rigorous approval process that drugs do. There is often no consistency from batch to batch. This is why you'll see phrases on vitamin bottles that proclaim, "Supports a strong immune system*" with the asterisk pointing to a statement that says, "Claims have not been evaluated by the FDA."
Even if you do report a problem to the FDA, it's kind of the Wild West in supplement county, and there's only one sheriff. "It's not that they don't have regulation. It's that the FDA does not have the man hours to monitor everyone. Keep that in mind the next time you're at the drugstore seeking a quick, supposedly natural fix for whatever ails you.
2. All supplements are the same quality
It is strange that this is still one of the most common dietary supplements myths around today. It stems from the false belief that health supplements are all regulated by FDA the same way that medicines are.
The quality of the supplements is usually determined by the purity of their active ingredients, the accuracy of the amount of active ingredients, the use of formulations that demonstrate better absorption by the body, the types of expedients and fillers used, the presence of contaminants, and the use of established best manufacturing practices. If you don’t know how to determine identify high quality vitamins and supplements, talk to your pharmacists or dietitian. Experts in the field have experience working with various supplement and vitamin manufacturers.
3. Supplements can make up for your diet's flaws
Supplements will never replace a healthy diet. Supplements (as their name implies) are intended to supplement a good diet. Even taken properly, supplements can’t supply all the benefits of healthy eating. That includes delivering many phytonutrients, the chemicals available in fruits and vegetables that have been shown to have potential health benefits, such as resveratrol, flavonoids and carotenoids.
Researchers have found about many phytonutrients that you simply can’t get in a supplement. These nutrients, available in many antioxidant-rich foods, may support your immune system and improve communication between cells, among other benefits still being discovered.
Also, when we eat whole foods, our body’s digestive system very efficiently takes out certain nutrients along the way — B vitamins at one point, calcium at another, etc. — and excretes much of what’s not needed. When you take a supplement, though, your stomach acids have to do all the work, dissolving the pill and sending nutrients back out to the various body parts. It’s less efficient. When you take supplements with food, the nutrients in the pill bond with the food and you get the best delivery and absorption.
4. Multiple single-source supplements are better than multivitamins
The vitamin and mineral needs for most adults over 50 can be met with a multivitamin with extra B12, which is beneficial for neurological function and red blood cell formation, and which our bodies tend to absorb less well from foods as we grow older. There are, however, a few exceptions in which a single-source supplement could be beneficial — these include calcium, magnesium, vitamin D and omega-3.
No daily multivitamin will have enough of those ingredients.
5. Vitamins, minerals and supplements are “magic bullets” for good health
If only there were a few pills we could take to prevent all diseases and guarantee good health for a lifetime! While a lovely dream, the reality is that wellness requires a multi-prong approach over time.
Many doctors and scientists generally agree that a wellness plan should include exercise, a well-balanced diet, vitamins and supplements, restful sleep, meaningful work, school and/or volunteering, relaxation, and enjoyable time spent with families and friends. Vitamins, minerals and supplements may provide important benefits for certain people, but, taken alone, don’t guarantee good health.
Morgan Spurlock, author of “Don’t Eat This Book,” sums it up best: “Sorry, there’s no magic bullet. You gotta eat healthy and live healthy to be healthy and look healthy. End of story.”