In Response to The New York Time’s Article “Don’t Take Your Vitamins”

Photo credit: Sabine Dowek for the New York Times

The New York Times made headlines with an op-ed piece this weekend declaring “Don’t Take Your Vitamins.”  The  article in a nutshell: the FDA is unable to control supplement makers from packing their products with excessive and potentially dangerous levels of ingredients, known as ‘mega’ supplements. Moreover, the majority of Americans believe that supplements  ‘do no harm’, greatly underestimating the risks of certain products and ingredients.

Indeed, mega doses of nutritional supplements are rarely beneficial except for specific medical conditions. Too much of certain nutrients are bad for overall health.  Institute for Better Bone Health published an article recently on the risks of mega doses specific to bone health supplements: Mega Dose Supplements: More Is NOT Better for Bone Health. We note that vitamin-A and Vitamin-E are dangerous at high doses, and even overdose of Vitamin D is possible from supplements.

The New York Times also correctly adds excessive antioxidants to the list. This is fairly new information that may seem contradictory to people, but some free radicals are probably helpful for killing cancer cells and certain types of infections. Vitamin E is an anti-oxidant, but too much vitamin E is clearly associated with increased frequency of cancer. The New York Times also identifies vitamins A, C, and beta carotene, along with selenium, as supplement ingredients that increase the risk of cancer when taken in large amounts – and we agree.

Additional studies show increased neurological problems and death from taking too many metal supplements. These include iron, copper, manganese, and zinc. In general, Americans consume enough metals in their food unless they are vegetarians, ill, or very old with poor eating habits. The NIH has safe upper limits for these metals, but some dietary supplements vastly exceed those recommendations.

That said - there is plenty of scientific evidence that vitamin deficiency is harmful to health. According to the author: “Nutrition experts argue that people need only the recommended daily allowance — the amount of vitamins found in a routine diet. Vitamin manufacturers argue that a regular diet doesn’t contain enough vitamins, and that more is better.” This is almost true. While some supplement makers do take a “more is better” approach, others simply compensate for dietary deficiencies.

For bone health, it is well established that the typical American diet does not contain enough of the vitamins that are necessary for improvement in key areas of bone health: collagen production, bone mineral density, and preventing osteoporosis. The majority of American adults have insufficient intake of vitamin D and calcium. Physicians are less likely to be aware that dietary deficiencies of magnesium, silicon, Vitamin K, and boron are also widely prevalent, and each of these essential nutrients is an important contributor to bone health.

Silical® System* does not add mega-doses of vitamins. Instead, only those that are contained in healthy foods to help meet the recommended amount for bone health. Let’s take silicon for example. Silicon is increasingly recognized for its role in bone formation. While it is found naturally in healthy foods including whole grains and green beans, the amount is insufficient. Women need at least 40 mg for improved bone density, but the typical daily intake from food is half that amount.

What this debate really gets to is a bigger problem of media reporting on health issues.  There are legitimate concerns that the loudest cries against nutritional supplements come from the pharmaceutical industry. In fact, a recent study finds medical journals with the most paid advertising by pharmaceutical companies published the most articles against dietary supplements. The concern also goes the other way –  studies funded by pharmaceutical companies may overemphasize the benefits of prescription medications.

Readers have to be particularly discerning with health reporting. They also have to read the fine print on a supplement maker’s website and check the nutritional labels against the RDA for each ingredient with those published by the NIH or other reliable health agency.  Make sure your bone health supplement has clear Quality Standards and Safety Information. Mega doses, minerals, unknown herbal extracts, and unrealistic claims are just some of the red flags. Our Bone Health Supplement Safety Test can help.

In summary, DO take your vitamins if they compensate for bone building nutrients you’re not already getting at recommended amounts, but make sure your vitamins are from a trusted source backed by leading physicians.

*Adequate calcium and vitamin D, throughout life, as part of a well-balanced diet, may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

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