“One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you, don’t do anything at all.”
Grace Slick, Jefferson Airplane “White Rabbit”
The supplements you take probably don’t do anything at all. And that is the news recently reported by the New York Attorney General last week (https://ag.ny.gov/press-release/2015/ag-schneiderman-asks-major-retailers-halt-sales-certain-herbal-supplements-dna). This report outlines studies of multiple supplements from well known retailers such as GNC, Walmart, Walgreens, and Target. They are selling supplements touted as “high quality” and “pure” that contains nothing more than rice, gelatin and houseplant parts. Yep. Your “better sex’ pills, your “feel better” pills, and your “better memory” pills are simply rice powder. As of the time of this writing the ‘immune health’ Spring Valley echinacea can still be purchased even after the cease and desist orders from the NY Attorney General. You should be appalled. But you are not. How do I know this? This is not new information. You, the general public, purchase over $20 Billion of supplements each year, mostly multivitamin supplements. And you believe the “purity” and “high quality” labels. But you won’t believe me, the physician who studies, practice, and lives nutrition and medicine.
However, I must defend you, the public. Us physicians and scientists confuse you. First we publish studies in peer reviewed journals saying supplements are good for you one year. The next year we publish a study that says they are bad. Worse, we title studies as if they are the final answer to these subjects only to later tell you the studies are worthless.
Every day I swallow a bitter pill. The pill of patient cynicism. The pill of the Google Doctor. The pill of quack pharmacy. Those commercials you see on TV with the white coat pharmacist or doctor telling you how they trust the purity of a supplement mislead you. One of the worst pills I swallow is the pill of bad medical literature. A report concerning supplements from the well respected Annals of Internal Medicine reared its ugly head again this past week after I discredited it the day after it was published. (“Stop wasting your money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.” https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/0003-4819-159-12-201312170-00011?articleid=1789253). It was one of three poor articles published in highly respected medical journals December of 2013. These articles made me ashamed of my colleagues and these important journals us practicing physicians rely on for good data. These types of articles get highlighted in the media and are used by the media to sensationalize bad information as truth. This untruth or dogma becomes a battle I constantly fight.
When I recognize the need for a patient to take a supplement, usually a multivitamin, my recommendations are based on good, solid medical literature that I have actually read. And most importantly my recommendations are based on actual measurements, actual biomarkers I use to guide my recommendations. And if you follow my recommendations the likelihood of improvements in your overall health are more probable. There are no guarantees when being prescribed a medication or recommended a supplement. But I guarantee my commitment to ensuring anything I recommend will do no harm and may actually put you in a healthier state.
To Your Health,