Nutritional Supplements: Good News or Bad?

Did you know…

  • Men and women in the top fifth of fruit and vegetable intake (about 9 or 10 daily servings) enjoy a 20 percent lower risk for heart disease than people in the lowest fifth (average less than 3 servings per day). 
  • Cancer risk is lower in those who each the most fruits and vegetables, also.
  • Americans spend over $25 billion a year on nutritional supplements!

Why do we spend so much when we could get the same things from wise food choices? About 12 years ago the scientific community got excited by the findings of some large population studies showing that diets supplemented with antioxidants, and Vitamin E, could reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Now over the intervening years other much more carefully controlled studies have not shown the same benefits.

What about cancer prevention? The results of several clinical trials have been disappointing also. The Harvard Women’s Health Study reported that 20,000 women who took 50 mg beta-carotene every other day were no more protected from cancer than those who took none. Smokers, former smokers, and asbestos workers have been show to be 30% more likely to develop lung cancer when they took beta-carotene supplements.

What’s going on here? One factor may be that when we start supplementing we use one particular form of a nutrient. With Vitamin E there are 8 different forms of the vitamin with biologic activity in the human. Supplementation with one type, floods the body with that type possibly blocking the action of the others that could be important. Some test-tube research has shown that antioxidants help keep cells healthy. However, they potentially might keep cancer cells healthy as well!

Other research shows body tissues become saturated with vitamin C at about 200 mg per day—an amount easily obtained by eating 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Additional amounts are like pouring water over an already-soaked sponge!

Foods rich in antioxidants are still a smart choice! It is nearly impossible to overdose on nutrients obtained from good foods! There are literally hundreds, maybe thousands, of research studies which unequivocally link the consumption of antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables to lower risk for heart disease, cancer and many other illnesses.

This holiday season give yourself and your family the gift of 9-10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day–and every day throughout the new year!