For Linus Pauling, it all started to go wrong when he changed his breakfast routine. In 1964, at the age of 65, he started adding vitamin C to his orange juice in the morning. It was like adding sugar to Coca Cola, and he believed - wholeheartedly, sometimes vehemently - that it was a good thing.
In 1994, one trial followed the lives of 29,133 Finish people in their 50s who all smoked. Some were given beta-carotene supplements. The group that supplemented with Beta-carotene had a 16% increase in lung cancer.
Another study shows a breast cancer increase of 20% for postmenopausal women who supplemented with folic acid.
One study with 100 heavy smokers had a 28% increase in lung cancer after just four years of beta-carotene and vitamin A supplementation.
For years, public health experts have practically begged people to stop wasting money on dietary supplements. For one, many of these pills don't work. Study after study has demonstrated that favorites like multivitamins don't actually improve outcomes on a number of health measures, from staving off cognitive decline to preventing cardiovascular disease and cancer.
In the US, supplements are regulated like food — and not drugs — under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, pill makers can basically put whatever claims they want on their bottles.
One analysis of supplement websites found 81 percent made at least one health claim — and more than half of those promised to treat, prevent, diagnose, or cure specific diseases. But a quick thought exercise will tell you that if these pills were truly panaceas, the FDA would have to treat them like drugs, not foods.
Back when undernutrition and vitamin deficiencies were widespread, supplements made some sense. But now one of the more urgent health problems is obesity and overnutrition while a growing body of studies shows that supplements’ effects are minimal or negative.
Remember that you can’t know for sure what's really in your supplement bottle. And that the pills probably won't make you any healthier (unless you have a medically diagnosed deficiency). And they might even be hurting you.
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