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You are here: Home / HPRC Blog / Do dietary supplements have a hidden health price?

Do dietary supplements have a hidden health price?

published: 05-12-2011 Journal entry icon

The sale of dietary supplements is a $27 billion-plus industry, and it continues to grow each year. Roughly half of the U.S. population now uses supplements, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. People take dietary supplements hoping they will improve their health and possibly reduce the risk of disease. But do supplements really improve a person’s health? We at HPRC pondered this question after reading a recent study published in Psychological Science.

The study looked at how people who take dietary supplements behave and whether they make healthier food choices than people who do not take supplements. One group was instructed to take a multivitamin, while the other group was instructed to take a placebo, but in actuality both groups actually received the placebo. It turned out that the group who thought they were taking a dietary supplement actually made less health-conscious choices, such as being less interested in exercise and choosing a buffet over an organic meal.

It seems as though the dietary supplements act like insurance for some individuals, as if their supplement of choice is a sort of a magic pill, as a result of which they don’t need to worry about food choices and daily exercise. But there are no magic pills, and it’s important to remember that dietary supplements aren’t meant to replace a healthy diet. According to the FDA, dietary supplements are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Eating a variety of foods daily is important for overall health.

Good sources of information on eating healthy are the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPyramid. While there is evidence that some dietary supplements can be beneficial—such as calcium and vitamin D for bone health, and folic acid for decreasing the risk of some birth defects—more research is needed on the effects of many other supplements. Due the assortment of active ingredients in dietary supplements, we need to be aware of their potential effects on our bodies.

Taking dietary supplements doesn’t automatically make a person healthy, and it doesn’t guarantee an individual will be free of health problems. The recent study mentioned above showed that taking supplements actually can lead people to make poor health decisions, so it’s a good idea to follow the simple principles of a healthy lifestyle: a varied, nutritious diet combined with daily exercise.