April 6, 2009

In The News: Supplementing Their Way Through The Recession

I'm slightly alarmed by this New York Times article that details the surge in supplement and multivitamin sales since last October's infamous stock market crash.

"Sales of vitamins and nutritional supplements, which have grown consistently for years, have surged in recent months. The Vitamin Shoppe has tracked a rise in new customers of about 20 percent over the last six months," the paper reports.

Facing unemployment and rising healthcare costs, some of the consumers interviewed for the piece are turning to echinacea, oregano oil capsules, and protein supplements to stay healthy.

One woman even repeats a classic myth, explaining how "energetic" and "strong" she feels as a result of taking vitamins.

Eek! I am most disturbed by the notion that people in financial hardship are throwing away their money on products that have not been shown to promote health.

The vast majority of studies on echinacea, for example, have not shown much of a benefit compared to a placebo.

Oregano oil? There have been no human studies, and at best it is touted as a way to possibly, perhaps, maybe minimize the symptoms of sinus infections.

Protein supplements, meanwhile, have absolutely nothing to do with health.

As I have said before, there is no reason why anyone consuming enough calories from many food groups should be concerned with getting more protein.

And then there's this: "Amy Breslin, who is 33 and studying to be a physician’s assistant, has pared back on fresh fruits and vegetables and stocked up instead on fish oil capsules and antioxidant supplements."

Her reasoning? Organics are expensive, so she gets a better "bang for her buck" with capsules and supplements.

I hear this line of logic many times. Here are my problems with it:

* While the lack of pesticides used in organic farming is wonderful , conventional fruits and vegetables offer plenty of nutrition. Many people erroneously think that conventional produce is akin to eating rat poison.

* Fish oil capsules and antioxidant supplements do not offer the same health benefits as eating actual fish and produce.

* Eating fruits and vegetables does not need to be expensive. Store-brand frozen fruits and vegetables are inexpensive.

Many people also forget that one of the most important things you can do for your immune system is FREE -- get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night!

In any case, I need to send my crystal ball in for repairs. A few months ago I "predicted" to friends that The Vitamin Shoppe and/or GNC would suffer as a result of the recession.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I am aware that you are not a proponent of nutritional supplementation for most people, correct? I have a few questions in this subject area.

1. Several years ago Nutrition Action Healthletter published an article which detailed recommended levels of vitamins and minerals based on the best available research at the time (which were quite different from the USDA Recommended Daily Allowances). I don't know if the editors of Nutrition Action Healthletter have updated the article based on more recent research or if they have shifted their stance on the merits or drawbacks of supplementation since then. Do you object to supplementation in general via a basic multivitamin/mineral product?
2. I do recall that the Nutrition Action Healthletter article recommended that adult males avoid iron supplementation (perhaps due to a possible link between excessive iron intake and the development of a certain type of cancer?). Is iron something that adult males should indeed avoid in a supplement?
3. Another supplement question - do you see any merit to taking turmeric or curcumin supplements (especially for someone with an inflammatory disease such as asthma)? Obviously, a whole food is preferable, but I think that massive amounts of curry would need to be ingested in order to derive any possible benefits.

Thank you,

Rob White
Boston, MA