Dec 232016

Dietary supplements: I’ve got a cupboard full of them. I take several every day, even though I know that under federal law, they are almost entirely unregulated. Vitamins B, C, D, E, plus magnesium, calcium, CoQ10, you name it, I’ve got it and take it.

No surprise, then, that a line in a book review in the New York Times today caught my eye:

[Supplements] is a meaningless word that refers to nothing so much as a parallel pharmaceutical industry — one that has accomplished the spectacular feat of selling billions of dollars’ worth of most anything it likes, in almost any way it chooses, promising people anything conceivable about their bodies.

Jane E. Brody, for 40 years the New York Times Personal Health columnist, whom I regard as a national treasure (she’s still working hard at 75), has written that she has been told repeatedly by nutrition experts that the “overuse of dietary supplements for ‘nutritional insurance’ has given Americans the most expensive urine in the world.”

In the first of two columns in November, she wrote that

Americans spend more than $30 billion a year on dietary supplements — vitamins, minerals and herbal products, among others — many of which are unnecessary or of doubtful benefit … That comes to about $100 a year for every man, woman and child for substances that are often of questionable value.

Brody reported this delicious irony: Supplement users are more likely than nonusers “to report being in very good or excellent health, to use alcohol moderately, to refrain from cigarette smoking, to exercise frequently and to have health insurance.”

As well, supplement users are more likely than nonusers to have more education and higher socioeconomic status. Go figure. Brody herself takes a daily dose of vitamin D, “based on considerable evidence of its multiple health benefits, especially for older people.”

Excuse me. Time to take my daily supplements.

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