We are in a news-hungry world, with headlines available 24 hours a day. As a child, we had the 10 o’clock news and the newspaper. Even that seemed like too much! Nutrition headlines are no exception and can fall to the trap of click bait and sensationalized topics with little basis in true health. I approach health headlines and evaluated them from a functional nutrition perspective. This means I evaluate headlines based on their ability to help people feel better and function better. These can be more challenging to find!
Balanced nutrition and sound advice often doesn’t grab the eyes of the viewer when it is competition is outlandish politics and constant bombardment of the lifestyles of famous people.
Headlines Matter for Your Health
When it comes to health, nutrition headlines can do more harm than good.
Headlines seem to have no qualms at making big claims such as “throw your vitamins away” and Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements [R].
Is this form of journalism accurate? And more importantly, does it do more harm than good? Let’s take a look at what they are really saying.
Here is an example. This particular piece of news, which splashed on every news page a couple years ago, was evaluating a research study indicating that multivitamins don’t help people. What did the reasearch really look at? People who already have high nutrient intake anyway. They were looking at doctors after all. If anyone can afford to eat well, it’s them.
People with high nutrient intake don’t benefit from supplements. Huh. What a weird study, first and foremost, and even weirder, it grabbed national headlines.
However, the Physician’s Health Study, published more recently, found that multivitamin and mineral use reduced chances of fatal heart attacks and requirements for additional heart stents. Where was the news when THIS study got published? Crickets.
The key was in the duration of study. The one with positive results of vitamins looked at a lot longer-term data.
Makes a functional nutrition specialist like me a little disheartened. People deserve to know how to get good supplements. Full disclosure: I do sell high-quality supplements at no extra cost to you.
Can Supplement Headlines Do More Harm than Good?
There are lots of people who benefit from a multivitamin and mineral supplement.
Who are these people?
- The average American eating the Standard American diet.
- Elderly who no longer eat well.
- People with heart disease and heart-related complications [R].
- People on medications that rob the body of nutrients. The list is long, including:
- Mood stabilizers (anticonvulsants)
- Cholesterol medications
- Stomach medications
- Blood pressure medicines
- Water pills
- Many more
- Obesity: one pound of fat requires an extra MILE of blood vessel supply and accordingly, more nutrients.
- No wonder patients who are overweight and obese get tired. They are getting robbed of the nutrients their bodies need in order to be in Build mode and then Maintain mode. They often don’t stand a fighting chance of wellness and energy without supplements!
- Alcohol intake: even casual, but routine alcoholic beverages deplete you of nutrients.
- Soils are increasingly deprived of minerals that we need to thrive.
- Lack of sun and use of sunscreen and epidemic vitamin D deficiency rates (vitamin D3 is good for so many things).
Why are the vitamin headlines partially right?
- Artificial vitamins, such as folic acid and synthetic vitamin E at high doses indeed may long term be bad for you.
- The synthetic vitamins also often have artificial food dyes and questionable add-ins like preservatives and binders. Read my folate versus folic acid post for more information.
- Even brands with the name “nature” or “natural” in the title may not be good quality.
Verdict: These headlines definitely do more harm than good. ALWAYS aim to get natural supplements when possible.
Functional Nutrition Research Approaches
Functional nutrition aims to make people feel better by meeting ALL their needs to help them feel better. Nutrition researchers need to treat vitamins like nutrients, not drugs
Research is difficult and food and nutrition is complex.
Problems of Current Nutrition Research Models
Unfortunately, the modern research model is based exclusively on drugs and the bias of this form of research is daunting. We are supposed to design all trials of nutrients to look like drugs. Uh oh- this doesn’t work.
This is what makes nutrition research so difficult. Imagine this. Research projects try to answer one simple question and answer it the most straightforward way possible.
To do this, researchers “cherry pick” the people (or animals or cells) to look as close to identical to each other as possible.
Then, researchers often isolate out ONE teeny tiny compound, drug, nutrient or otherwise. and measure ONE teeny tiny variable. What if they pick the wrong variable? They often do.
They then try to apply this very reductionist formula to the whole population. Put it all together and its VERY easy to manipulate this research in a way that may look the way their bias prefers it to look.
Guess what? This doesn’t work out very well very often for food or nutrients.
Why? Nutrients and food compounds are complex and symbiotic with other nutrients. A single meal can have 1000 different compounds in it!
After many years of clinical practice and research and even self-experimentation I have learned this:
I would much rather take a single patient experience and listen to the patient with good follow up. I will then build on that clinical knowledge to help others. The basis of functional nutrition is meeting an individual’s needs to get to the root cause of their illness.
Where is the individual assessment in research?
Even the best of research is minimally applicable to you, the individual.
Important Nutrition Headline Considerations
The topics that really matter to me as a functional nutritionist and researcher after 18 years are these:
- Did the research focus on making people feel better?
- Did the research look at a topic that is globally applicable? Or did they falsely talk about it this way?
- Were the people being researched the right group of focus?
Many research projects are highly flawed, nutrition, pharmaceutical, and otherwise. Often the ones making the headlines are some of the most flawed.
Many doctors, who conduct nutrition research, were never trained in nutrition.
How to Evaluate the Nutrition Headlines
When reading the headlines, here are a many things I like to think about:
- Are they looking only at death rates? Spoiler alert: almost nothing changes death rate. This is inherently biased.
- Are they making broad, sweeping claims?
- What were they measuring?
- Who were they measuring it in?
- Did this thing they measured make sense to measure in this particular group?
- Is someone gaining money by manipulating headlines and research projects?
- Big Pharma?
- Big Food?
- Is there money to lose by big companies if someone would take these vitamins or supplements?
- this is often true
- Is the research based on associations rather than clinical trials?
- How I tell: if they say “related to or increased risk” this does not mean cause and effect. It is like saying that “white houses are more likely to catch fire”, which might be an incidental finding.
- What are the odds that vitamins pose a risk? for real?
- Were they using a high quality supplement in their analysis?
If the headlines fail to answer any of the above questions and concerns, or seem to make vast claims, I usually dig deeper. Click the link to the research they are citing and you can often find these details.
What are direct risks of vitamin and mineral supplements?
The headlines made it seem big: 23,000 Emergency Room visits due to supplements. Why was this not very accurate? They included diet aids supplements and detox supplements, which made up the vast majority of supplement ER admissions (35% of these 23,000 were diet and energy pills). They included laxatives and all forms of supplements in this 23,000.
Around 3500 ER visits a year for total vitamins and minerals, and most of these ER visits were because the vitamins got “stuck” in the esophagus by elderly. This largely is preventable by taking a smaller dose, easier to swallow gelcap.
In comparison, accidental intake of opiate drugs, even by young children, far exceeds this amount and opiate intake ER admissions for adults is epidemic! This is where ER deaths occur due to pills, not vitamins.
The truth is this (and never mentioned in the headlines): most admissions related to supplements are related to diet and exercise enhancement supplements, not vitamins and minerals.
Never do the studies look at quality of the supplement or form.
Headlines also fail to look at how many ER visits good quality supplements prevented (it is a lot).
Do Supplements Reduce Healthcare Costs?
Where were the headlines when THIS study got published?
Omega 3 supplements reduced fatal heart attacks very significantly (52 fewer deaths per 100,000 heart attacks). This translated to $16,340 healthcare savings per heart attack case [R].
If every woman with osteoporosis supplemented the appropriate amount and type of magnesium, $1 billion dollars per year would be saved in avoidable hospital costs [R].
An additional $2 billion per year would be saved if these same women took calcium and vitamin D3.
Think magnesium might be right for you? Consider this:
Conservative research states that half of Americans don’t eat enough magnesium [R].
Where to buy high-quality supplements?
I’m here to help. Rather than generic responses you might get in your 5 minute visit with your practitioner, find a well-educated dietitian that is well-versed in supplements, drug-nutrient interactions and more (not all are specialists in this).
Natural matters. Form matters. There are thousands of supplements on the market, so find the right one for you. If you feel bad when taking it, odds are, it’s not the right one for you.
My marker of a good supplement is it’s magnesium tolerability. We almost all need more, yet magnesium can be very difficult to take.
Your standard multiple vitamin available at retail stores have magnesium (magnesium oxide) that has about a 4% absorption rate. You guessed it: the rest get pooped out, and may cause diarrhea. Most likely, you will stop taking them because of undesired side effects.
Personally the supplement pack called the Lifelong Vitality Pack is the only supplement with good amounts of high-quality magnesium that doesn’t cause diarrhea or loose stool symptoms for me.
I am The Healthy RD and have tried many “natural” brands as well, with this brand being the absolute best for me. Another reason I love this supplement: The folate is sourced from lemons.
The Lifelong Vitality Pack nutrient delivery complex contains naturally formed vitamins and minerals in highly-absorbable glycoprotein forms. I was truly amazed when I started taking them how they don’t make me nauseated, and even better, don’t cause diarrhea! Most importantly, they make me feel great.
Here is more information about the Lifelong Vitality Pack.
Here is a great, personal experience with these supplements from Calene Van Noy, RD:
Due to previous bad experiences with vitamins, I was skeptical of the Lifelong Vitality supplements. I finally decided to give them a try-they had a money-back guarantee so I thought-why not? I’d heard about so many good results like improved mood in a big way, no more walking outside in the spring and having to run back inside because of sneezing and itchy eyes; many people get increased energy. So, I gave them a go. I was completely surprised!
I really had expected to stop using them after a few days because of how other vitamins in the past had affected my digestion. you guys! My digestion was great- improved even! I started noticing that I didn’t’ get tired mid-day and slept fabulous at night. I had my blood tested before and after. Previously, my results were pretty good except for my high triglycerides and my hemoglobin A1C was a little too close to the diabetic range for my liking. I came back after taking the Lifelong Vitality for 3 months, and my triglycerides were really improved. If I missed a day of taking the supplements I really notice and get right back on it. No matter what you’ve got going on, the Lifelong Vitality Pack will help!
Important Lifelong Vitality Supplement Considerations
- Take supplements with food for improved absorption
- They are food-derived.
- You will absorb them better if you take them three times daily rather than once daily all at once.
- They are formulated in lower dose per gelcap for better absorption and to be easy on the stomach.
- They contain enzymes that enhance absorption.
- The Lifelong Vitality Pack is generally recognized as safe and made with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP certified)
The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body and is shared for educational purposes only. Consult your doctor or healthcare provider before making changes to your supplement regimen or lifestyle.
Heidi Moretti, MS, RD is The Healthy RD. A registered dietitian for 20 years, has a passion for functional nutrition and natural medicine. Has researched supplements and plants as medicine throughout her career. Loves helping people gain function and vitality by tackling the root causes of illness.