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Do we really need supplements?

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With so much conflicting news on supplements, it's easy to wonder whether taking them makes any difference. Here's why they're worth it.

If there’s any subject that gets health-minded people in a twist, it’s supplements. What are we supposed to believe when headlines range from “Multivitamin Use Linked to Lowered Cancer Risk” (New York Times, October 2012) to “Stop Wasting Your Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements” (Annals of Internal Medicine, December 2013)?

Fortunately, I’ve got an expert in my corner: Todd Runestad, my longtime colleague and editor-in-chief of Functional Ingredients. Todd has a knack for cutting through bunk. As he wrote recently in response to the Annals editorial: “Every time I read one of these stories, with the ivory-tower types saying that we can get all the nutrition we need from food, never once have I [heard] the obvious rejoinder: How many Americans do in fact get all the nutrition they need from food?” (Indeed, a 2012 study found only 2 percent of Americans eat a nutritionally adequate diet.) “And don’t even start me on today’s soil, depleted of many nutrients by modern agricultural practices.” Age also affects nutrient absorption, he noted; a 2013 study suggests that, for people over 65, supplements could save $24 billion in health care costs over five years. (Check out Todd's entire rejoinder blog, "Stop Wasting Money on Multivitamins? The Real Story Here.")

By law, supplements can’t claim to “treat, cure, or prevent disease”; but they’re intended to fill in nutritional gaps that hamper essential body functions, helping you stay healthy naturally and gently; in other words, to supplement your wellness efforts. 

So, yes, keep taking them! And be choosy when buying. That’s where our 2014 Supplement Awards help. Carefully vetted by our strict Standards Department—which, incidentally, also reviews every ad that appears in Delicious Living—our medical editor, and even the knowledgeable Todd Runestad, these winners represent worthy choices to proactively manage your health. As always, discuss any new supplement with your health care provider; and let us know in the comments below what you take and why.

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