Fitness for One and All Home Page
Books and eBooks by the Director
Supplement Proponents’ Claims
By Gary F. Zeolla
This four-part article is continued from Supplement Proponents’ Claims: Part Three.
The next claimed reason why people need to take nutritional supplements is that medicinal drugs either cause the excretion of nutrients or that certain drugs increase the need for certain nutrients.
To study this claim I Googled “drug nutrient depletion” and came up with many websites that sell supplements that make this claim. Some even list various drugs and the nutrients they supposedly deplete. The site with the best organized list is on Thornton Natural Healthcare Center. However, the closest I could find from an actual medical source was from the University of Maryland Medical Center, on its page Complementary and Alternative Medicine Guide, under “Supplement Depletion Links.”
But checking standard medical sites like WebMD, I did not find any information on this subject. As such, it seems like this is just another claim by supplement proponents to sell their products. But I will say, if the reader is taking a prescription medication, this is definitely something you would want to talk about with your doctor
I would also recommend reading the tiny print of the printout that comes with all medications that list the side effects. If there is even a remote possibility your drug might deplete one or more nutrients, it will be listed there. I say this as drug manufactures are careful to list every possible side effect, no matter how unlikely, so as to avoid being sued for not reporting a possible side effect.
If a possible nutrient depletion is listed, then again, talk with your doctor as to what nutrient or nutrients and how much of them you should supplement with. But to self-supplement without your doctor’s guidance would not be wise, as there are many possible interactions between various drugs and supplements. And I would definitely not trust a supplement proponent who is trying to sell me a supplement as to what I should take.
Extra Nutrients Prevent Cancer
In the 1990s, it was a common claim that mega-dose supplements of antioxidants decreased the risk of cancer. These include beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A), vitamin E, and vitamin C, along with the mineral selenium. In Chapter 22 of my original Creationist Diet book, published in 2000, I discuss the debate in this regard. I present studies that at that time showed a possible benefit from mega-dose supplements of antioxidants, but also others that showed no benefit, and I discussed the possible side effect of mega-doses. I conclude by stating:
As for the antioxidants, there is some possible evidence for taking much larger does than the RDAs for heart disease and cancer protection. But the evidence is shaky at best, and there are potential side effects. So only the reader can decide if it is worth it or not.
Since that time, the evidence keeps piling up that mega-doses of antioxidants do not prevent cancer or heart disease. On the contrary, they can increase the risk of both and of other problems. But that has not prevented mega-dose supplement proponents from continuing to repeat this myth.
An article on ARS Tehncia’s website is titled “Cancer myths about antioxidant supplements need to die.” It states:
The essence of a healthy diet is a bit of a mystery. Everyone knows that a diet full of plant foods—fruits, vegetables, and nuts—is good for you, as it can lower the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other ailments. But scientists, being scientists, want to know the exact reason, and they have long eyed antioxidants. These chemicals, found in high amounts in some plants, quench harmful molecules that can run amok in cells, fatally damaging DNA and the cellular machinery.
As the hypothesis that antioxidants offer health benefits took root in the minds of consumers, however, it shriveled in labs. Mounds of studies, conducted over decades, have found no conclusive link between antioxidants and lower disease risks. And, this month, two studies add to evidence that antioxidants may actually increase the spread and severity of some cancers.
Other websites report about other studies done on antioxidants and cancer risk:
To date, nine randomized controlled trials of dietary antioxidant supplements for cancer prevention have been conducted worldwide. Many of the trials were sponsored by the National Cancer Institute. The results of these nine trials are summarized below….
Overall, these nine randomized controlled clinical trials did not provide evidence that dietary antioxidant supplements are beneficial in primary cancer prevention. In addition, a systematic review of the available evidence regarding the use of vitamin and mineral supplements for the prevention of chronic diseases, including cancer, conducted for the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) likewise found no clear evidence of benefit in preventing cancer (National; Antioxidants).
Antioxidants are supposed to keep your cells healthy. That is why millions of people gobble supplements like vitamin E and beta-carotene each year. Today, however, a new study adds to a growing body of research suggesting these supplements actually have a harmful effect in one serious disease: cancer….
The work, conducted in mice, shows that antioxidants can change cells in ways that fuel the spread of malignant melanoma—the most serious skin cancer—to different parts of the body. The progression makes the disease even more deadly. Earlier studies of antioxidant supplement use by people have also hinted at a cancer-promoting effect. A large trial reported in 1994 that daily megadoses of the antioxidant beta-carotene increased the risk of lung cancer in male smokers by 18 percent and a 1996 trial was stopped early after researchers discovered that high-dose beta-carotene and retinol, another form of vitamin A, increased lung cancer risk by 28 percent in smokers and workers exposed to asbestos. More recently, a 2011 trial involving more than 35,500 men over 50 found that large doses of vitamin E increased the risk of prostate cancer by 17 percent (Scientific; Antioxidants).
A 2012 review of almost 80 randomized clinical studies of antioxidant use (vitamin A, C, E, beta-carotene and selenium) again showed cause for concerns. Together the studies included a total of almost 300,000 men and women (described as both “healthy” and with diseases in a “stable phase”). Men and women were more likely to die if they were taking Vitamin E, beta-carotene or doses of vitamin A that exceed the Recommended Dietary Allowance (700µg for women and 900µg for men). The authors concluded that the use of antioxidant supplements could be dangerous for the general population and those diagnosed with various diseases (Cancer. Antioxidants).
SELECT stands for the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial. SELECT was a clinical trial to see if one or both of these substances could help prevent prostate cancer when taken as dietary supplements. The trial was funded primarily by NCI and developed and carried out by SWOG, an international network of research institutions….
Although there were no statistically significant differences in the rates of prostate cancer between the four groups in the trial, there were more cases of prostate cancer in men taking only vitamin E. Statistical significance describes a mathematical measure of how sure one can be that a difference seen is not due to chance.
In the 2008 report, there were also more new cases of diabetes in men taking only selenium compared with men taking placebo. This finding was also not statistically significant and did not prove an increased risk from selenium….
The additional data show that the men who took vitamin E alone had a 17 percent relative increase in numbers of prostate cancers compared to men on placebo. This difference in prostate cancer incidence between the vitamin E only group and the placebos only group is now statistically significant, and not likely to be due to chance.
Men taking selenium alone, or vitamin E and selenium, were also more likely to develop prostate cancer than men taking placebo, but those increases were smaller and are not statistically significant and may be due to chance. Updated results of SELECT were published in JAMA on October 12, 2011 (National; Selenium).
The last study I found particularly interesting. I had begun keeping track of my diet using the software program DietPower. In June of 2014. After a month of doing so, I wrote an article for my fitness website about the results. In it, I write the following. But first, note that PDA means Personal Daily Allowances, that is DietPower’s recommended nutrients based on a person’s sex and age. NQ means Nutrition Quotient. It is Diet Power’s “grade” for my diet. I consistently average an A++ or Genius grade.
Diet Power’s PDA for selenium is 55 mcg, and that is the RDA. But at one time many authorities believed 200–300 mcg would help in preventing prostate cancer. Rather than taking a separate selenium supplement to reach this level, I got in the habit of consuming one large or two small Brazil nuts on most days, as I figured that would be more natural. One large Brazil nut contains 95 mcg. With that, I am averaging 154 mcg, or 280% of the PDA. Add in the 110 mcg in my multi, and I average 264 mcg, what I thought was a beneficial level.
However, Diet Power is telling me, “Easiest ways to improve [the NQ]: Get less selenium.” At first, I assumed this was because DietPower was not taking into account the prostate cancer benefit of higher amounts of selenium. But to be sure, I did some Googling and found newer research shows that not only does supplemental selenium (of 200 mcg) not decrease the risk of prostate cancer but it actually increases it (as does supplemental vitamin E of 400 IUs, see the above Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial).
However, this research is about supplemental selenium, not selenium naturally found in foods, so I’m not sure if the selenium in Brazil nuts is problematic or not. In addition, this newer research came out after DietPower was last updated, so that is not the reason for my high selenium intake hurting my NQ. That is probably due to the Upper Tolerable Limit of selenium being just 400 mcg.
But whatever the case, I learned something as a result of keeping track of my diet with DietPower. And if I were to remove the Brazil nuts, my NQ would be even higher. But I like Brazil nuts, and for some reason, I feel better if I eat the one or two nuts a day. I tried stopping them a couple of times, but each time, after a couple of weeks, I began to fatigue more easily. But when I began eating them again, my energy levels came back up. Of course, that could just be placebo effect, or something else could have been happening. But one or two Brazil nuts only costs pennies a day, and I doubt there’s a prostate cancer risk with nuts, so I see reason not to eat them.
The point is, if you do want to attain a greater amount of antioxidants, the best way to do so is through whole, natural foods. As indicated, Brazil nuts are by far the best natural source of selenium. The best source for the antioxidant vitamins A and C would be various fruits and vegetables, and the best source for vitamin E is nuts, seeds, and oils. These foods provide not just these nutrients but many more as well, all in the synergistic fashion that God/ nature intended.
However, there is no proven benefit for taking mega-does of supplemental antioxidants, and doing so could actually be detrimental. Anyone claiming otherwise is ignoring all of the most recent research.
Exercise Increases Nutrient Needs
This final claim would require an article in itself. But here, it will just be reiterated that the RDAs are set so as to cover the vast majority of people, and that would include athletes. Moreover, athletes generally consume more food than non-athletes; therefore, with proper food choices, they should naturally consume more nutrients. And in most cases, that would provide them with more than sufficient nutrients.
Testimonials and Scientific Studies
The last issue to be addressed in this article is not so much a claim but how supplement companies promote their products. That is, by way of testimonials.
Check out the websites or Facebook pages of just about any manufacturer or seller of supplements, and you will find many posted testimonials by supposed users of their products about the many supposed benefits they received from using that company’s supplements. I even went to an alternative doctor at one time who had a thick book of testimonials from patients about how he had supposedly helped them, with a lot of the improved cases due to supplements he had prescribed for them (which he sold to them of course).
Let me first state, I do find the reading of testimonials interesting. And how a product affects other people is something to consider when deciding to take it yourself. This is true in regard to supplements, drugs, and any number of health-related products. And that is why throughout this article I am relating my experiences with various supplements.
However, testimonials are not proof of the safety or effectiveness of any supplement, drug, or any other health product. There are many reasons for this fact.
First, I use the word “supposed” twice in the second paragraph as when reading a testimonial posted on a website or Facebook, there is no way of knowing if a positive testimonial is genuine or if it written by a representative of the company. And it is also possible that negative testimonials are written by a representative of a competing company.
Second, very often, when someone begins taking a supplement, they also make other changes in their life, such as changing their diet, starting to exercise, stopping smoking, or any other number of changes that could affect their health. These steps are often as part of a health improvement attempt due to a New Year’s Resolution, a health scare, or any other number of reasons. As such, it is impossible to know if the supplement is the reason the improve health, or if it is one or more of these other changes. For instance, consider the following Facebook post I saw a while back:
“There is something amazing about [a supplement] that I haven’t shared. I am more energetic, better rested, healthier, more regular, 34 lbs lighter and have completely stopped soda and energy drinks.”
The poster is probably saying the supplement made him feel so much better that he did not need the sugar and caffeine boost from the soda and energy drinks. But more likely, it was good old-fashioned will power that enabled him to give up the soda and energy drinks, and stopping those unhealthy drinks is the reason for the other benefits.
Third, several times in relating my own experience I have said, “of course that could just be a placebo effect” or the like. That is because the placebo effect is real and must always be considered when reading testimonials. And it is why a true scientific study of a supplement or drug will always be a double-blind study, with a control group that is given a placebo. That is the only way to know if an observed result is due to the drug or supplement being tested or is just a placebo effect.
Moreover, a quality study will include more than just a few people, and the more the better. This is to eliminate the effect of what was previously stated—that many times people will make other changes in their lives when starting a supplement. The more people that are included in a study, the less effect such individual changes will have on the overall outcome.
A quality study will consider all such confounding factors and will evaluate the results as to if they are statistically significant.
In addition, a reliable scientific study will be published in a peer-reviewed journal. In that way, other researcher can review the study and point out any flaws in the study. Such will also enable other researchers to try to duplicate the results of the study. It is only when multiple researchers are able to reproduce similar results that the results can be considered reliable. Any research that does not go through all of these steps is less than reliable.
This is all very important, as, when reading the websites of supplement companies, you will almost never see posted the result of any actual scientific studies on their products. Or if they do refer to a study, they do not provide a link to the study itself. It is thus impossible to determine if all the preceding steps were taken.
Or if they do provide information on the study, you will see that only a few people were involved, the results were not statistically significant, and/ or it was not a double-blind study with a control group that was published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Moreover, they might refer to studies done on one or more of the ingredients in their product, but they still do not link to the study itself. That is often to hide the fact that the study used far more of the ingredient than is included in their product.
For instance, it was mentioned previously that in the CVS Men’s Health Formula that I use there are 300 mcg of lycopene. That is 0.3 mg. It was said it was “meaningless.” I said that as, “One cup (240 mL) of tomato juice provides about 23 mg of lycopene” (WebMD; Lycopene). And it is in such amounts that lycopene has been studied for its health benefits. But the supplement only contains 1.3% of this amount, hardly a meaningful level.
For those who don’t know, the following abstract provides the basics about lycopene. The full report then goes to describe various studies done on lycopene, all using 20-30 mg of lycopene either from tomato products or in supplement form.
Lycopene is a non-provitamin A carotenoid that is responsible for the red to pink colors seen in tomatoes, pink grapefruit, and other foods. Processed tomato products are the primary dietary lycopene source in the United States. Unlike many other natural compounds, lycopene is generally stable to processing when present in the plant tissue matrix. Recently, lycopene has also been studied in relation to its potential health effects. Although promising data from epidemiological, as well as cell culture and animal, studies suggest that lycopene and the consumption of lycopene containing foods may affect cancer or cardiovascular disease risk, more clinical trial data is needed to support this hypothesis. In addition, future studies are required to understand the mechanism(s) whereby lycopene or its metabolites are proven to possess biological activity in humans (Annual; Update).
The point is, even if lycopene is beneficial, the amount in my multi is meaningless. Therefore, I do not depend on it for my lycopene intake. Instead, as an Italian, I consume copious amounts of tomatoes products. But in regard to this subject, the point is to be sure to check the amount of an item actually used in a study as compared to what is included in a supplement you are considering. Very often, the supplement will contain a meaningless amount.
But most off all, do not put much stock in testimonials. They make for interesting reading, but they prove nothing. Look instead for research studies on the supplement in question. If such is not available or are inadequate, that should tell you something about the possible benefits of the product.
Along these lines, the supplement proponents’ claims that I have been reviewing in this four-part article came from several different websites. These are listed in the Bibliography at the end of each part. Also listed there are the full URLs or other bibliographical data for all of the sources that I have cited. And I have cited many to support my claims. But on the webpages of the supplement proponents, such is almost never done. They just make assertions without support for them. Or if they do cite evidence, if you check the source (which most do not), you will find that it doesn’t really support what they are saying. That is why I have provided copious quotes from my sources so the reader can see I am not misusing them.
For those who are unfamiliar with the terms in the preceding section or the concepts presented, following are definitions of important terms. They are taken from Your Dictionary, except for the last one.
When a drug company is testing a new drug and gives one group a real pill and the other group gets a sugar pill, the sugar pill that he gives to the other group is an example of a placebo.
An inactive substance or preparation used as a control in an experiment or test to determine the effectiveness of a medicinal drug.
The tendency of any medication or treatment, even an inert or ineffective one, to exhibit results simply because the recipient believes that it will work.
A testing procedure designed to avoid biased results by ensuring that at the time of the test neither the administrators nor the subjects know which subjects are receiving a test treatment and which belong to a control group.
The control group is defined as the group in an experiment or study that does not receive treatment by the researchers and is then used as a benchmark to measure how the other tested subjects do.
(in an experiment) The group of test subjects left untreated or unexposed to some procedure and then compared with treated subjects in order to validate the results of the test.
Statistically significant is the likelihood that a relationship between two or more variables is caused by something other than random chance… Specifically, a set of data becomes statistically significant when the set is large enough to accurately represent the phenomenon or population sample being studied. A data set is deemed to be statistically significant if the probability of the phenomenon being random is less than one out of every 20, which is why the p-value is set at 5%.
My Brand is Better than Your Brand
Every supplement company will claim that its brand is better than everyone else’s. Their brand is purer, has better ingredients, a more logical formulation, is more effective, or whatever. Every alternative doctor I ever went to sold supplements, some branded under their own name, and would claim that only by taking their brand would someone experience positive effects. But all I ever experienced from their products were negative side effects.
Their claims would be “proven” by testimonies. But what is really needed is third party testing of their products to ensure they contain what they claim to contain and do not contain unsafe contaminants. Given that the supplement industry is not regulated by the USA FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), actual label content and purity of product is not ensured when buying a supplement. Moreover, there is no requirement that a supplement be proven to be safe and effective before it is marketed. The FDA will only step in after there are reports of significant adverse effects from a product or one of its ingredients. These adverse effects are sometimes due to impurities in a product.
But you will look in vain for any third-party testing of products on most websites for supplement companies in regard to purity, actual content, safety, or effectiveness. But such would be the only way to know for sure on these issues, as third-party testing has shown that some products do not contain the full label contents or contain impurities. But you will have to look on third party sites for such research.
In this four-part article, I have tried to review every possible claim I could find by supplement proponent as to why people need to take nutritional supplements. Most of the claims were shown to be completely bogus. And in the rare cases when they had a point, a basic multi containing 100% of the DV for a variety of nutrients that cost pennies a day would cover the need. There simply is no reason to spend exorbitant amounts of money on mega-doses or food-based supplements. In fact, taking such supplements could make matters even worse.
Moreover, that money would be much better spent on buying whole, natural, organic foods. Rather than spending money on supplements, spend it on organic fruits and vegetables, whole grain bread and cereal, nuts and seeds, legumes, grass-fed meats and dairy, and fish.
Now it is true it is easier to just take a pill than to make such major changes to one’s diet. But as this four-part article has explained, in no way will a multi supplement make up for an unhealthy diet or undo the damage it will cause.
It is also true that a mega-dose or food-based multi is not that much more expensive than a basic multi that taking just the latter will save enough money to pay for purchasing whole, natural, organic foods rather than junk foods. But a multi is only one of many supplements that supplement proponents push. If you were to take all the recommended supplements, not only would you be taking a whole bunch of pills, but you would easily be spending $200-300/ month on them. And that amount of money would suffice to cover the higher cost of the aforementioned healthier foods. I detail the health benefits of such foods in my books God-given Foods Eating Plan and Creationism Diet: Second Edition.
General (for all four parts):
All Scripture references are from: Analytical-Literal Translation of the Bible (ALT). Copyright © 1999-2019 by Gary F. Zeolla (www.Zeolla.org). Bolding added for emphasis.
2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for America.
5 Reasons To Take Nutritional Supplements.
9 News. Common nutrition myths.
10 Reasons to Take Nutritional Supplements.
Authority Nutrition: 7 Nutrient Deficiencies That Are Incredibly Common.
Dangers of Supplementation.
Debunked! 7 Common Senior Nutrition Myths.
Getting your vitamins and minerals through diet.
Parsonnet, Mia. M.D. What’s in Our Food? Madison books: New York, 1996.
PR Newswire. Nine Out of 10 Americans Fall Short of Key Nutrients They Need, New Study Concludes.
Why Do We Need Supplements?
Why Getting Your Nutrition Only from Food is A Bad Idea.
Why Is Crop Rotation Important?
For Specific Sections in this Part:
Annual Review of Food Science Technology. 2013 Dec 4. An Update on the Health Effects of Tomato Lycopene. Erica N. Story, et. al.
ARS Tehncia. Cancer myths about antioxidant supplements need to die.
Cancer Prevention & Treatment Fund. Antioxidants and cancer risk: the good, the bad, and the unknown.
National Cancer Institute. Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention.
National Cancer Institute. Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT): Questions and Answers.
Scientific American. Antioxidants May Make Cancer Worse.
Thornton Natural Healthcare Center.
University of Maryland Medical Center. Supplement Depletion Links.
God-given Foods Eating Plan - The approach of this book is to study different foods and food groups, with a chapter devoted to each major classification of foods. First the Biblical evidence is considered, then the modern-day scientific research is reviewed. Foods are then classified as "God-given foods" and "non-God-given foods." The main point will be a healthy eating plan is composed of a variety of God-given foods and avoids non-God-given foods.
Supplement Proponents’ Claims: Part Four. Copyright © 2020 by Gary F. Zeolla.
The above article first appeared in the free
FitTips for One and All newsletter.
It was posted on this site December 5, 2020.
Text Search Alphabetical List of Pages Contact Information
Fitness for One and All Home Page
Books and eBooks by the Director