Americans could be wasting billions each year on supplements – The Hill

Story at a glance

  • The US Prevention Services Task Force (USPSTF) analyzed dietary supplement data and found there’s not enough evidence to determine if they have any health benefits.

  • More than half of US adults reported using at least one dietary supplement in the prior 30 days.

  • Dietary supplements are not considered medicine and aren’t made to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent or cure diseases.

Millions of Americans take dietary supplements to aid their overall health and wellness, but those efforts may not be helping, with a new report finding there’s insufficient evidence to determine if supplements have any tangible health benefits.

The US Prevention Services Task Force (USPSTF) published a new recommendation that said Americans may not need to take vitamin, mineral or multivitamin supplements to prevent serious health issues, such as cardiovascular disease or cancer.

USPSTF found the current evidence available is “insufficient to determine the benefits and harms of taking most vitamin, mineral and multivitamin supplements to prevent heart disease, stroke and cancer.”

USPSTF is an independent panel of experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine. The task force makes reports to Congress yearly that identify evidence gaps in research and recommends priority areas that need closer examination.

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The task force found that beta-carotene supplements can actually carry adverse health effects and advised against taking them. The supplement was linked to an increased risk in lung cancer in people who smoke tobacco or have occupational exposure to asbestos.

More than half of US adults, 52 percent, reported using at least one dietary supplement in the prior 30 days,AQ and 31 percent reported taking a multivitamin-mineral supplement, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The most cited reason for taking supplements was for overall health and wellness and to fill any nutrient gaps in everyday diet.

The supplement industry rakes in an estimated $50 billion on dietary supplements and spends about $900 million on marketing, according to researchers from Northwestern University.

“The appeal of supplements is obvious. In theory, vitamins and minerals have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that should decrease the development of cardiovascular disease and cancer,” researchers wrote.

Yet, after USPSTF conducted its own analysis, it found that for many of the vitamins and nutrients reviewed, there was simply not enough evidence to determine the balance of benefits and harms of supplementation with single or paired nutrients for preventing cardiovascular disease or cancer.

However, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) struck back against the USPSTF’s findings and noted that the evidence for the benefits of dietary supplements is growing. The group referenced the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements, which contends that certain dietary supplements can improve overall health and manage some health conditions.

NIH says calcium and vitamin D can keep bones strong and reduce bone loss while folic acid can decrease the risk of certain birth defects. Omega-3 fatty acids and fish oil may also help those with heart disease.

Dietary supplements are not considered medicine and aren’t made to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent or cure diseases. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees both supplements and medicines but imposes separate regulations for dietary supplements.

Supplements don’t require FDA approval before they can be sold or marketed, and manufacturers are allowed to say that a supplement promotes health or supports a body function — but they cannot say a product can diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Published on Jun. 22, 2022

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