The health and fitness industry thrives on vitamins, minerals, and supplements (VMS). According to Forbes Magazine, in 2013 the VMS community drew in $32 billion for the year (that’s ‘billion’ with a ‘b’). Some projections point to the industry pulling in $60 billion annually by 2021. With all this money being spent on our health one should ask why we aren’t the healthiest 1st world country? On the contrary, we’re one of the unhealthiest countries (ranked 10th out of 10 1st world countries). On the bright side we’re spending more money on our health than we are on pornography (link), but I digress.
At a glance we could easily conclude supplements do not work. If they worked then we should be #1 on the health spectrum, right? Wrong. Without going down the rabbit hole of the state of the American healthcare system as well as the perception projected by healthcare marketing and branding companies, a diet high in processed foods, lack of physical activity, etc. we need to focus on whether or not supplements work and, if they do, who should take them. Over 150 studies were conducted by various scientists on the affect of antioxidant supplementation on exercise. They came to the screeching conclusion there were little to no benefits from taking these supplements. In fact, the supplements had negative affects on ones health. That was just a freaking antioxidant!
Like any substance if you consume too much, even if it has health benefits, it can be harmful to your body. Anyone who’s gone to medical school will tell you that. Anyone who’s had too many glasses of red wine will tell you that (red wine has antioxidants which are beneficial to your heart, remember?). So, how do you know if you should take supplements or not? Well, that answer could lie with your genetic makeup and/or current lifestyle with regards to nutrition and exercise.
Let’s take a look at where you should get most of your VMS: food! The majority of the vitamins and minerals your body needs already come in the form of food. Need Vitamin C? Enjoy an orange. Low levels of Iron? Have a lean piece of steak. What the VMS community has been doing for many years is convince us that we can’t get the right amount of nutrients into our bodies without the use of supplements. Technically, they are correct. If you have a certain disease, genetic disorder, or you are not eating a healthy diet filled with real, whole foods then, you will need supplements. Schedule a physical and your doctor will let you know if certain vitamin and mineral levels are too low. If so, then your first step will be to change your diet. If that doesn’t work then you could be a good candidate for supplements. Again, only if the changes in diet did not work.
The best course of action, in my opinion, is to be the type of person who takes supplements and, then, skips them (unless you have a genetic disorder). Eat your vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats, dairy, fish, and so on. Food is what you need. Food is your supplement. No lab, no scientist, no research facility could ever truly replicate the benefits of eating real, whole foods. We’ve tried that many times and have been mislead by the data. Remember baby formula? It was all the rage. Years later we discovered it was not nearly as beneficial as breast milk and in some instances harmful.
Some of us have hereditary diseases (high cholesterol, heart disease, etc.) and need to take supplements. Following a healthy diet and exercise regimen can only take some of us so far. When you’ve done all you can then supplements are not only recommended but also strongly advised. Do your due diligence and research what supplements to take for your health. A good start would be with your doctor. If your issues are serious they will recommend the proper supplement and the amount needed to bring your health back to optimal levels.