Wasting 28 Billion Dollars in America

That’s the cost of vitamins and supplements annually in the U.S.

Studies recently reported no benefit for taking supplements and vitamins except in some special circumstances. Folate in pregnancy is a good example to prevent neural tube defects.

Why do you suspect that I knew that and I am not impressed with the claims made?

There’s evidence, propaganda and hype. Snake oil and magic. Placebo and nocebo.

I will remind you of something one of our readers/commenters pointed out just today, medical treatments are not 100 percent effective, but a significant percentage of patients benefiting will meet any reasonable standard for efficacy, just like I can live with chasing diseases that are rare or infrequent in the setting of a common complaint. It is my job to find the serious and occasionally rare cause of trouble, most people, thankfully, don’t have some horrible disease but sometimes they do. Just like not everyone get’s better from a treatment, but if 20 percent do, I am a successful treater for those 20 percent.


I know some will swear by some supplement. Ok. Show me how you’re item is the exceptionn to the rule that we are not deficient with our diets. We are not eating a monochromatic diet like the people in 3rd world countries, where they could miss something.

Our food is nutritious, even if we don’t “eat healthy” which I would translate, “eat anxious and obsessed.”

17 responses to “Wasting 28 Billion Dollars in America

  1. Another one that certainly seems helpful is the hormone mislabeled as Vitamin D. The US (anyone know about Canada?) has been routinely adulterating milk with it because the levels in people were low enough to go as far as to risk causing rickets.
    In the past decade or so the “unofficial” groups have been advocating for higher doses, pointing out that there are other issues that happen before you get sick enough to suffer from rickets. And in the past year or so the official gov’t groups have raised the target levels as well.
    Now it’s certainly NOT a miracle drug in any way, shape, or form. But with the indoor lifestyle of modern living, (Vitamin D is produced by the body courtesy of sunlight) this is one where there is some there, there.

  2. I have severe colitis and therefore am very restricted in my diet. Without supplements i’d have at minimum scurvy

    • A point worth repeating, there are circumstances in which vitamins are necessary or at least greatly beneficial. There are even some large scale difficult to obtain vitamins (most notably iodine and Vitamin D) which are added to foods as public health measures

      However, several groups recommend universal multivitamin usage, which is not supported b y the data.

  3. Besides Vitamin D in milk there is Iodized salt. Haven’t seen many old folks with goiters these days have you?

    And fluoride added to municipal drinking water which has apparently improved oral health.

    It has been known for a long time that a vitamin C deficiency leads to scurvy and that condition can be avoided with supplements. Vitamin C is also crucial for the healing process of wounds and military studies demonstrated that supplementing a patients vitamin C intake to ensure they had the minimum requirement helped decrease healing time for soft tissue injuries.

  4. I swear by the glucosamine family of arthritis supplements. I couldn’t take a prescription drug to stop the pain in my fingers because they upset my stomach. I started taking glucosamine about 9 years ago and my fingers are almost totally pain free. They might not work for everybody’s body chemistry, but they work for me.

    • glucosamine is in many animal foods. I had an old horse with a bad foot, supplements were a little hard on his stomach.

      Do not forget the benefits of carafate for stomach problems, no downside but really helpful. interfere with absorption of meds though.

  5. There are far too many uncontrolled variables in any nutrition study – namely the thousand or so species of bacteria, fungi, yeasts, etc. that live within our intestines and whose wastes and decay products provide the vast majority of the substances we assimilate as ‘food.’

  6. John1282, what’s the latest word on fish oil? My doc had me taking it and I stopped after all that bad press six months ago.

    That’s enough time for some dust to settle. Did it turn out to be yet another overhyped scare story? Or is the stuff actually on the “outs” now?

    Thanks in advance.

    • no idea about fish oil, my friend, I am a physician and as the nutrition people point out, ignorant of all the important benefits of eating right and taking the right supplements.

      I prefer to approach it based on reports of proven benefits. Like evidence and such.

      The whole oil, fat, saturated unsaturated, partially saturated–hokus pokus.

      I like my job, thanking soldiers, cigars, whiskey, butter, bbq, red meat, fish, chicken, vegetables, exercise, beautiful and fast horses, classy, not younger, women, old cars, real men, in a platonic manner of course.

  7. I think fish oil was tested in randomized clinical trials and did not work. Over 90% of the claims coming from observational studies failed when tested in RCTs. Eat moderately, exercise and pick your grandparents and you will live long.

  8. 100% of Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for vitamins/minerals is an essential part of health. We need them daily. The best way to get them is by a pill (not relying on the ups and downs of various foods consumed in a day). These pills should not be called “supplements”. They are the primary source.

    Of course, megavitamins/megaminerals should be avoided as likely dangerous.

    • Carl, a vaguely balanced diet will get you everything you need and more. There is no need to get a pill, and the daily ups and downs are irrelevant (you don’t reset every day like in a video game) it’s total diet that should be considered, which even in “bad” diets, is quite good at providing vitamins.

  9. While it’s true that vitamins and supplements are overhyped, there are some that are necessary. Those on acid blockers need to supplement vit B-12. Pregnant women need to take folic acid to prevent spina bifida in the baby. Of course if they can ban folic acid they can blame some other harmless substance for the birth defects, and they can become “REAL HEROES!!!”
    But here is the kicker: If they can use the war on vitamins they can distract attention away from the epidemic of drug abuse, which is costing far more than all the vitamins sold in the US. not only in dollars but in resources and human suffering. They are chasing a mouse around with a hammer while they turn a blind eye to the angry Grizzly bear in the room.

    • Excellent points. The conclusions of the studies is to condemn just willy nilly multivit use.

      And to show it has no health effect–for heart disease and longevity. I said folate for pregnant moms is an example of a recommended supplement but prenatal vits with iron for pregnancy is always recommended. There are other examples like vit D that were good exceptions to the general statement about mulitvits. Alcoholics and other malnourished people can have deficiencies in their diet. People who eat a balanced diet with fresh stuff are usually OK.

      Golden rice, that provides a precursor beto carotene for Vit A is another example we wouldn’t know about in America. Providing Vit A in populations with a monochromatic diet deficient in Vit A is not our problem.

      Vit A supplements put people at risk for excess Vit A, which can be liver toxic as I recall, found out by people who ate polar bear liver.

  10. Let’s get one thing straight here:
    in a perfectly balanced and designed diet, with a perfect outdoors lifestyle with a lot of mild physical activity in a warm to temperate climate with lots of exposure to moderate levels of sunlight, a person would indeed need no supplements unless he or she has an illness that prevents the intake of specific chemicals from his or her food in sufficient quantities.

    Sadly 99.99999% of the world’s population does not live under those conditions, so is likely to have some deficiencies.
    For the majority of them those deficiencies will not be serious enough to cause health problems so supplements won’t do much for them.
    For a minority they’ll be life savers, literally, and for a larger minority they will seriously improve the quality of life.

    I don’t take much, but glucosamine is reducing the arthritic aches in my hands, vitamin B and D are going some way towards normalising my sleep pattern (without them I’m a total insomniac, with them I get some small amount of sleep without needing addictive sleeping pills).

    I do agree that the idea of stuffing everyone with 10-1000 times the RDA of every vitamin and other supplement is a bad idea and just an invention of people trying to push those pills (and making massive profits out of it).
    Another problem is finding pills that actually work. Not being regulated as medicine, many contain far less active substance than their packaging suggests, often using vague numbers and listing similarly named substances to put people off who actually read beyond the product name.

    • well put. Furthermore one doesn’t take additives to live ‘longer’ or ‘better health’ but just to make up for nutritional deficit/bad lifestyle. If for example you drink moderate/heavily taking vit supps is a very good idea. And since a lot of people do ….

    • JTW, agreed, but it’s a lot easier to get vitamins than you are implying. 90+% of people in the 1st world get their vitamins without even trying.

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