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Show 1187: Are Supplements Really a Waste of Time?

Many people take supplements. A major review last summer concluded, though, that they are a waste of time for heart disease. Is that really true?
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Are Supplements Really a Waste of Time?

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Last summer, a major review of research on supplements to improve heart health concluded that most do nothing to prevent heart attacks, strokes or premature death from cardiovascular causes (Annals of Internal Medicine, Aug. 6, 2019). In other words, they are a waste of time and money. (The possible exceptions include omega-3 fats and folate.)

This meta-analysis got an enormous amount of attention, mostly of the “told you so!” variety. The view that dietary supplements result only in expensive urine has been prevalent in medicine for some time. But should we dismiss all supplements as ineffective? Or are there situations where certain supplements could be useful?

Dr. Low Dog Presents Some Alternatives:

Dr. Tieraona Low Dog is one of the country’s leading experts on the science behind dietary supplements. What does she think about the conclusions of the recent meta-analysis? Does she agree that supplements really are a waste of time? What are the limitations on this type of research?

Is a Strict Diet a Waste of Time for Heart Health?

The meta-analysis was not limited to individual supplements. In addition, the scientists evaluated certain diets that have been recommended for improving heart health. They found that a low-salt diet could help people avoid premature death from cardiovascular causes, especially people with high blood pressure. Other widely recommended diets didn’t fare so well, however. Are low-fat diets really ineffective at preventing heart disease? What about a Mediterranean style diet with lots of vegetables, fruits and olive oil and very little meat or sugar? The investigators found that this well-studied eating plan was also a waste of time.

Call in Your Questions About Supplements:

After you listen to Dr. Low Dog, you may have observations or questions you want to share. Joe and Terry will respond. Our lines are open for your questions and comments this week. Call 888-472-3366 between 7 and 8 am EDT on Saturday, November 2, 2019. You can also reach us by email: radio@peoplespharmacy.com.

As we mentioned during the show, we have written about some of the contradictory research on fish oil to help against heart disease. Here is one article, from late last year; here is the subsequent one in which the scientists announce that fish oil has benefits. 

The Problem with Zantac:

For more than a year, you have heard about recalls of blood pressure medicines like valsartan, losartan and irbesartan. The makers of the raw materials used procedures that resulted in contamination of these drugs with nitrosamine compounds that are probable carcinogens.

Recently, a mail-order pharmacy called Valisure announced that ranitidine carries large quantities of one such compound, NDMA. This results, apparently, not from contamination but from the inherent makeup of the molecule. Listen to the founder and CEO of Valisure, David Light, describe why his pharmacy tests every drug they dispense and how the problem with ranitidine (Zantac) came to light. What might you use instead?

This Week’s Guests:

Dr. Tieraona Low Dog is a founding member of the American Board of Physician Specialties, American Board of Integrative Medicine and the Academy of Women’s Health. She was elected Chair of the US Pharmacopeia Dietary Supplements/Botanicals Expert Committee and was appointed to the Scientific Advisory Council for the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Her books include: Women’s Health in Complementary and Integrative MedicineLife Is Your Best Medicine; and Healthy at Home. Her latest is Fortify Your Life: Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals and More. Her website is drlowdog.com. (The People’s Pharmacy is pleased to offer Fortify Your Life in a paperback edition.)

David Light, a biotech entrepreneur and scientist, is the founder and CEO of Valisure, an online pharmacy that puts medications through rigorous chemical analysis before sending them to consumers. The website is www.valisure.com.

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. This podcast contains some questions for David Light that wouldn’t fit in the broadcast interview.  The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free. CDs of the broadcast may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

Buy the CD

Download the free mp3 

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Fortify Your Life: Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals, and More

Fortify Your Life gives you the evidence-based information you need to decide whether you need a supplement and which format and dose would be best.

Fortify Your Life: Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals, and More
  • Khan SU et al, "Effects of nutritional supplements and dietary interventions on cardiovascular outcomes: An umbrella review and evidence map." Annals of Internal Medicine, Aug. 6, 2019. DOI: 10.7326/M19-0341
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One question you can certainly ask with some assurance is: “What if I take no supplements?” Will there be a difference (either in your health or your pocketbook)? If you then define a medication vs a supplement as something prescribed and recognized in accordance with standards and sanctioned by various groups and organizations governing them, then you would seem to have an advantage to say that supplements are not, or at least not as recognized and sanctioned.

But this gets very complicated because many medications once considered “merely” supplemental are used today as medications with occasional supplemental overlap e.g. foxglove, e.g. belladonna. The FDA has sometimes stepped in with some use of supplements but not always. With the FDA there are all the arguments of safety but yet high cost and with supplemental testing more cautions but much less cost in most cases. I think it is obvious to most who educate themselves on the uses of medicines and supplements that the arguments exist for either side.

The key to use of anything is education if a person doesn’t want to randomly – and haphazardly – exist. With supplements, there are good ones and bad ones, in my opinion. I have been surprised at the difference in my health by using them. I work in health care, and I am aware of the placebo effect and appropriate testing for efficacy. But these are things one must deal with on a personal choice basis, given that supplements may not always have the FDA approval. That said, education is key and an honest informed objectivity one must take if they use them.

I get very irritated when people talk about supplements as “vitamins.” The supplements I take are immune system boosters, adaptogens, antioxidants, amino acids, trace minerals, and herbs like Bilberry for eye health, NAC, Acetyl-L-Carnitine and Bacopa for brain health, cranberry for renal health, whey, trace minerals and more. But no “vitamins” except B-complex, D and C! So the articles on supplements don’t have much to do with me.

ALSO: taking supplements specifically for heart health? Or to avoid cancer? NO! The supplements I take are geared to general good health, dynamism, longevity and vitality — stuff that works synergistically and thus no one effect can be easily “measured” and “quantified” in some study.

And boy, do I have results. When younger, I drank like a fish (still kinda do), smoked a pack a day for 40 years (quit, thank God, but still smoke pot), suntanned to deep bronze every single summer, never had near enough sleep, and was a meth head (injecting!) for 6-7 years. Not only that, I’ve broken 38-40 bones in my body, pulled/twisted/sprained/ripped just about every soft tissue in my body, (sports injuries), smashed the whole half of my face in a biking accident… You’d think I’d be a total mess.

Yet, at almost 72 years old, I outrun everyone half my age. I ski the double-diamonds furiously without any pain,tho I sure used to have pain. I have NO arthritis, absolutely no health concerns, take no Rx or OTC drugs or meds for any health concern. My skin is great, I use no makeup, and everybody thinks I’m at least 25 years younger than I am. “You’re a rock star! You’re my hero! If you’re what getting old is like, then I’m not so scared of it.” That’s what I hear day after day, from person after person.

To what do I owe all that? Supplements! Absolutely. It’s the only thing I can think of. No, they are not all good or all necessary. Yes, it’s important to do your homework and keep up with stuff. And I do. But again, I do totally credit the supplements. I take about 25 different ones a day. OK, thanks!! And cheers from Cindy.

Who funded the referenced meta-study?

Primary funding source declared as none.

I am now 83 years old. Imago longer about tome fast enough to stop soon enough those previously recommended supplements that were proven to help me. It appears that my health needs are somehow met by my supplements.

They work for me as least as reliably as FDA Lisinopril/Losartan have, and they certainly appear to be safer!

For example, I take Lycopene, fish oil, mixed tocopherols, quercetin, Vitamin D3, and, dare I add, CBD oil, etc.

It seems like medication info releases are sequentially written to deny the previous release so they will always have something else to print.

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