Surprising Risks of Vitamins and Supplements - Save Your Money
“Half the time, you’re just paying for expensive pee.”
I looked at the dietitian that I was interviewing. “Really?”
“Yeah, you’re just going to pee it out. It’s not worth it,” she said.
This was the second time I had heard someone say this about vitamin supplements in two days. The first time was when I interviewed a medical doctor. His remark was almost identical: “You’re just going to have really expensive pee.”
I was astounded. I remembered all the times that I had scrutinized over which vitamins I should be taking and which brands were the best. Was it all just a waste?
Andrea Drew, a Registered Dietitian, was basically saying yes.
“Since I’ve been practicing, the only time I’ve recommended vitamins, supplements or minerals is when someone has a wound," she said. "Outside of that, I have not recommended it.”
Nevertheless, Andrea takes a multi-vitamin for women (when she remembers) and an iron supplement. And Victor Starcher, the medical doctor I spoke with, also takes a few vitamins. Andrea knows her iron is low, and Vic is looking for some extra help with inflammation.
“A multi-vitamin a day won’t hurt you,” Andrea said. “But if you have a pretty good idea of what you’re eating each day, if it’s enough, it’s enough. You don’t need a multi-vitamin. If your body doesn’t need it, it’s going to get rid of it.”
In really expensive urine.
Not to mention, vitamins, minerals and other supplements are sometimes taken in excess, and this leads to other problems. Some vitamins have toxicities, such as vitamin C. When taken in extreme excess, vitamin C can cause kidney stones and other side effects. (Elliott)
So, why are we convinced that we need vitamins and supplements?
One reason might be because we are bombarded with advertisements for them. The health-conscious are told you need these, every day! People may feel, like I did, that they are probably suffering from all sorts of deficiencies. The truth is that it is possible but unlikely. To self-diagnose is not necessary, and to self-treat can be unwise.
“You just don’t ever want to take something without having a reason, such as that a doctor or a dietitian has told you that you need to,” Andrea said.
According to her, dietitians recommend food first. (Learn how Andrea says you should eat and drink.)
The problem is compounded by the fact that no vitamins or supplements are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Not just the expensive, imported products found at health food stores. This also includes the vitamins purchased from Wal-Mart.
“Literally, what is on the label may not be what’s in it, and no one is double-checking to make sure,” Andrea said.
In fact, concerning herbal supplements, a study published in the journal BMC Medicine in 2013 found that an estimated 33 percent of those products on the market are adulterated, contaminated or mislabeled. (O’Connor)
In the study, the DNA of many random supplements labeled as healing herbs was tested for identification. The pills were shown to contain little more than powdered rice and weeds, or worse. (Newmaster)
A paper by forensic pathologist Roger Byard published in 2010 in the US-based Journal of Forensic Sciences reveals the highly toxic nature of many herbal substances. Byard warns that there is a false perception that herbal remedies are safer than manufactured medicines, when they actually can contain potentially lethal concentrations of arsenic, mercury and lead.
Byard writes: “As access to such products is largely unrestricted and many people do not tell their doctor they are taking herbal medicines for fear of ridicule, their contribution to death may not be fully appreciated during a standard autopsy. Forensic pathologists the world over need to become more aware of the contribution that herbal medicines are playing in a range of deaths, that is not currently recognized.”
According to Byard, an estimated 30 percent of United States citizens use herbal supplements without their doctor’s knowledge.
In two popular Christian sources for investigating the claims of alternative medicine, many more examples have been cited through the years. John Ankerberg and John Weldon give several examples from their research published in 1991 in Can You Trust Your Doctor. Later, Dr. Dónal O’Mathúna and Dr. Walt Larimore in Alternative Medicine: The Christian Handbook document newer examples of studies or cases of contamination from all over the world, both accidental and deliberate.
The problem is not going away, but the multi billion-dollar supplement industry continues to grow. A 2018 report by Grandview Research, Inc. revealed the global herbal supplements market size is expected to reach USD 8.5 billion by 2025.
In summary, when it comes to vitamins, minerals and other supplements, always check with your doctor for recommendations, and research supplement companies before purchasing. If you want to take control of your herbal medicine and make it yourself, I recommend my book, The Christian Herb Gardener's Handbook: A Beginner's Guide.
Or, avoid the risks altogether and do as the dietitians recommend - get your nutrients from your food.
According to Andrea, understanding nutrition and eating to get the nutrients your body needs is not difficult.
“It’s literally just eat your fruits and vegetables. Follow MyPlate. It’s that simple,” Andrea said.
For a guide on understanding nutrition, see our article "A Christian Dietician's Easy Rule for Nutrition."
Meg Grimm writes biblical studies and research articles that help set women free from impractical health and beauty standards of the world. She strives to unveil true beauty and sensible body care principles from a godly perspective.