Okay, no, I don’t think supplements are silly. In fact, I take a rather full complement of supplements daily. The title, however, acts as a flag that the use of supplements may not be all that is needed for good health.
The question of supplements really gets down to the meaning.
What Are Supplements, Anyway?
I suspect that if you were to ask 5 people what supplements really are, you’d get 5 different answers. In that light, feel free to consider mine to be yet another bit of noise in the spectrum. I don’t pretend to have all the answers; I just want you to spend some time thinking about the question.
A supplement is something that is intended to complete or enhance something. From a vitamin perspective, supplements are taken to address a possible deficiency in our diet. With the route that conventional agriculture has taken through over-farming land, artificial fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides, there’s no question that our modern diet is deficient. The soil is exhausted. And did you know that most of the food we eat has been bred or cultivated to express certain unnatural genetic traits? What we eat isn’t what we evolved to ingest. From an evolutionary standpoint, we’re playing catch-up with a diet for which we can’t be assured of its healthfulness.
Okay, you ask, so you still haven’t talked about why it’s silly.
A lot of folks out there scarf back a bag of Doritos after dinner, washing it down with a 64-oz. Big Gulp, with the GMO corn in the Doritos being nearly their only source of vegetables for the day. At some point, they’ll hit the medicine cabinet and toss back a multi-vitamin with the thought that they’ll get what they need. And that, folks, is where the silliness starts.
Supplements supplement a reasonably healthful diet to ensure that we manage to cross the finish line in our race to well-being. Supplements are not a replacement for naturally sourced nutrition. You’re fooling yourself if you think that even a handful of vitamins can put right the disaster of a fast-food-based diet. Will supplements help in such a situation? Sure, but it won’t fix things.
What’s the evidence of this, you ask?
One merely look at the growth of the supplement industry. According to the fact sheet produced by the Council for Responsible Nutrition, 2008 saw the U.S. dietary supplement industry being worth a cool $25.2 billion with over 29,000 products on the market. More than 150 million Americans take supplements annually.
Okay, so now let’s compare that with the stats for Metabolic Syndrome (MetS). According to the American Heart Association Statistical Fact Sheet – Risk Factors 2008 Update, some 47 million Americans suffer from MetS. If you’re not sure what MetS is, it is a collection of three or more of the following abnormalities:
- A waist circumference greater than 102 cm (40 inches) in men and 88 cm (35 inches) in women
- Triglyceride level of 150 mg/dL or higher
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol level less than 40 mg/dL in men and 50 mg/dL in women
- Blood pressure of 130/85 mmHg or higher or drug treatment for hypertension
- Fasting plasma glucose level of 100 mg/dL or higher
Now, let me be clear that my association between MetS and supplements is purely anecdotal. There are tendencies toward MetS in certain parts of the population that have not been correlated against possible supplement use. All I’m doing here is saying that while 150 million folks are taking their vitamins, 47 million in that same country suffer from MetS. Is it possible that most or all of the 47 million don’t take supplements? Sure. Is it likely? Uhm, no.
I’ll happily go out on a limb here and say that North American culture has evolved to be one of ever expanding waistlines and instant gratification. Many people want instant results and many believe in the power of the pill. So, anecdotal and assumptive as it may be, I suspect that there would be plenty of evidence to support that supplement intake isn’t really stopping the incidence of MetS. It might be slowing it down, but it isn’t a cure-all.
And that, really, is the thrust of this article. If you want to be healthy, you have to live with that goal consciously in mind and make choices to that effect. You can’t just pop a few supplements and expect that all your other poor choices will be undone. It just doesn’t work like that.
Using supplements wisely means using them as an adjunct to a healthy diet. A healthy diet consists of whole, unprocessed foods comprised of animal proteins, veggies, fruits/berries and nuts. Maybe throw some legumes in there once in a while. Supplements then augment the nutrients and vitamins in the foods you eat, pushing you over the top into a state where your body has all the resources it needs to maintain itself in good health.
Supplements cannot and will not fix your mistakes, so make the right choices.