We love dietary supplements in the U.S. Over half of adults take a vitamin or supplement. When it comes to our elderly, that number balloons up to 70%. According to the latest predictions, the market for supplements will climb to $300 billion by 2024.
We are also convinced in the U.S. that more is better when it comes to supplementation. According to this paper, 75% of Americans think taking more than the recommended amount of a nutrient is better than just hitting your daily recommended dietary allowance (RDA). Basically, most of us believe that if getting 100% of our vitamins and minerals is good, then getting 200% should be better!
But is this true? Is megadosing beneficial, or are we just falling victim to clever marketing by supplement companies trying to sell more of their products? Read through the back of any multivitamin label, and you will likely notice a bunch of vitamins and minerals listed in quantities that provide over 100% of the RDA.
Does that assume we aren’t getting any of that nutrient from our food? Or are those quantities so high because we can benefit from all those vitamins and minerals in addition to an already healthy and complete diet?
If you take a step back, it doesn’t seem evident to me that all these supplements are helping us get any healthier. The supplement industry keeps growing, and more Americans are taking vitamins than ever before, yet rates of chronic disease continue to climb. That’s not to say that vitamins and minerals aren’t essential, but more supplements don’t seem to be helping us climb out of the hole we’ve dug ourselves into.
Pulling on that thread, it doesn’t seem that mega-dosing on vitamins and minerals is doing us any favors. RDAs are set for a reason. While some in the health space will claim that those RDAs are too low, it is important to note that those values in the U.S. are already set two standard deviations above the average dose sufficient for the typical American.
Before taking a “what supplements should I take” quiz, ask yourself why you’re actually taking them in the first place
Could we benefit from more than the RDA of some crucial vitamins that make up most of the deficiencies in the U.S., like vitamin D or B12? Sure, but to say that more is better as a blanket statement for all people and all vitamins and minerals is a gross overstatement that is probably doing more harm than good.
When most people think they can cover their nutritional needs with a few capsules, they are less likely to prioritize getting those nutrients from whole, nutrient-dense foods. If a cheap multivitamin already has over 100% of all the nutrients I need, why wouldn’t I just eat microwaveable chicken nuggets and diet coke? My multivitamin has me covered, no?
It is no wonder we are taking more supplements and still getting sicker year after year.
The key takeaway? Supplements can be a great addition to a healthy lifestyle as long as they are used as they are intended. They should be used to SUPPLEMENT a healthy diet, not replace healthy, nutrient-rich, whole foods.
Not only are whole foods better for you, but they will also have more readily absorbable versions of all those vitamins and minerals than you could ever get from a capsule or powder.
So make sure you are supplementing accordingly and still prioritizing the things that matter: diet, exercise, sleep, and hydration.
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