Are you a big believer in nutritional supplements? If so, you’re not alone. According to Forbes magazine, one of the fastest growing industries in the world is the nutritional supplement business: vitamins, minerals, fish oils, probiotics, and antioxidants.
In addition, among the world’s aging populations that are struggling with health issues characteristic of increased longevity (problematic eyesight and mobility, for example), the market for targeted supplements is growing rapidly—glucosamine to improve joint mobility, lutein to promote healthy eyes, and probiotic supplements to enhance digestion.1
However, the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, warns that, unfounded and exaggerated claims for dietary supplements have proliferated. False advertising claims cause people to believe that these supplements will have a positive impact on their health.
According to a recent 2015 Wellness Report on Nutritional Supplements,2 half of Americans use dietary supplements on a regular basis to improve their health, spending $28 billion per year. Global spending on these products is around $68 billion annually. This money is spent on herbs, vitamins, minerals, hormones, and other pills, all bought without a doctor’s prescription. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are more than 29,000 different nutritional supplements in the U.S. market alone.
Nutritional-supplement marketers and the pharmaceutical industry seem to be at war, often due to billions of dollars in revenue from the sales of pills. On one side, it is true that pharmacological companies seldom highlight the importance of healthy lifestyles or healthy nutrition in the fight against disease. On the other side, advertising from the dietary supplement industry often portrays the pharmaceutical industry as an “evil empire”—accusing them of raking in billions by poisoning consumers with expensive, dangerous chemicals they shouldn’t be taking—when, in fact, medicines can sometimes save lives when used with a prescription and with careful follow-up.
Here are some myths and half-truths that the expensive advertising in favor of nutritional supplements has implanted in the minds of the public and many Adventists:
Myth #1: Dietary supplements are far safer than prescription drugs because they are “natural.”
Reality: The fact that a supplement is derived from an herb or other plant and is therefore “natural” doesn’t necessarily make it safe. If everything that was made from plants was safe, we wouldn’t be told to avoid eating certain berries or mushrooms while hiking in the woods. And would you consume arsenic or hemlock?
Myth #2: Dietary supplements are rigorously tested, and their effectiveness is backed by all sorts of studies and scientific proof
Reality: To gain FDA approval, any new prescription drug has to pass a series of strict clinical trials. But dietary supplements are sold without FDA approval. Worse, they either undergo no testing at all—or the “testing” to which they have been submitted typically does not meet the standards required by the scientific community. For example, supplement advertisements frequently boast that a particular herb has been used for 1,000 years in Asia. In reality, some Chinese herbs can cause liver damage and have other dangerous side effects.
Myth #3: Supplement makers are knights on white horses riding to our rescue, while the pharmaceutical industry is “evil.”
Reality: Both the pharmaceutical and the dietary-supplement industries spend millions of dollars trying to get us to buy their products.
Think twice before spending the resources God gives you on bottles of supplements. The Bible reminds us that the original diet is plant food from its natural source (Gen. 1; 2). The best advice is to get your nutrients—including vitamins—from plant food sources if available. Sometimes a supplement is needed when vitamin levels are low. Vitamin B12 supplementation is necessary for vegans; for people with low levels of Vitamin D, appropriate supplementation as prescribed by a health professional is also critical.
So the question comes down to this: Who—and what products—do you trust?
1 BCC Research report. http://www.reportlinker.com/ci02037/Vitaminand-Sup...
2 The 2015 Wellness Report: Dietary Supplements. Retrieved February
Katia Reinert is director of the Health Ministries Department for the North American Division.