The best answer I have seen to questions about dietary supplements

I get a lot of questions about nutritional supplements. Should I take (fill in the blank)? Will it help me lose weight? What would I recommend? Most of the time, my answers are disappointing.

Since there is very little research to support big benefits of taking supplements, I tend to respond with something like this: “There is no good reason* why you should take supplements so it probably won’t help much. I  probably won’t hurt you either, so if you have the extra money, go ahead.”

*Unless your physician tells you to. And tell your physician about supplements you do take.

I recently read a much better response. It’s from Marion Nestle, a professor, writer, and all-around expert about all things nutrition. It’s from a Q&A on her blog, Food Politics. You should make it part of your regular reading.

Q: Why are you so hard on nutritional supplements? You must be one of those people who thinks they kill people.

A: Don’t get me wrong. Nutrient supplements are great for people who have nutrient deficiencies. Whether they make people worse is arguable, but study after study shows that nutrient supplements do not make healthy people healthier. If you like to take supplements, I’m guessing you don’t care much about what the science says. Supplements aren’t about evidence-based medicine. They are about deep distrust of modern diets, science and the health care system. If nothing else, supplements are powerful placebos, and I’m not at all convinced they are seriously harmful. My advice: Supplements, like everything else about nutrition, should be taken in moderation.

Good, right? Why didn’t I think of that?

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