Updated: Nov 17, 2019
There is a HUGE market for supplements. We’re exposed to lots of advertising for them and we see towering shelves full of them at supermarkets, pharmacies and health stores. It can leave you wondering whether you actually need supplements or not.
I’m going to state my position from the outset; personally I don’t use supplements and professionally I don’t recommend them. I don’t take supplements because I have read enough studies and spoken to enough doctors to be confident that I am getting adequate nutrition through my diet. If I’m concerned about nutrition, I take the basic and commonsense step of ensuring that my diet is balanced and I’m eating plenty of wholesome and natural foods. I’m also fortunate to not have any illnesses requiring supplements.
Professionally, I’m not qualified to give advice regarding supplements that is contrary to government recommendations or specific in nature. That’s radical I know; I’m admitting that I’m not an expert and I’m placing greater value on my integrity than my bank balance and my ego. I disagree with personal trainers, poorly qualified nutritionists and alternative therapy practitioners who make radical claims about the benefits of certain supplements. Usually these people get a buzz from sounding smarter than your GP or government health departments (my views are in line with the Ministry of Health).
These people frequently have a vested interest in encouraging supplement consumption because they are the ones selling them to you. Protein shakes are a great example of this; I’ve never sold protein powders because I don’t believe that most people need them and if someone does need protein supplementation, it’s not my role to tell them. Instead, they should see a well-qualified nutritionist, dietician or medical doctor.
Health stores are also a fantastic example: That store person you’re speaking to about the wonders of Mongolian purple turmeric with essence of wildebeest hoof? Yep, guess what, they’re trying to sell you Mongolian purple turmeric with essence of wildebeest hoof, with a whopping margin I may add. They’re not going to tell you that you don’t need it are they?
Another objection to supplementation is it shifts people’s focus away from what does make a difference; having a healthy and balanced diet. A multivitamin or protein shake isn’t going to counter the ill effects of too many takeaways, too much booze and not enough veggies. If your diet is excellent and you have issues related to nutrition, speak to you GP, possibly get referred to a dietician and they’ll sort you out with supplements based on sound science.
I’d like to make it clear that I’m not saying that supplements are wrong for everyone. My understanding is that supplements are very beneficial for many people, for example, people with osteoporosis, Crohn’s disease or individuals who have made lifestyle choices like veganism.
But again, in these situations, take supplements based on what you’ve been told by someone who is suitably qualified not your mate Dave who’s a personal trainer.
Here are a few articles you can peruse for more information:
A similar viewpoint to mine: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/do-you-need-a-daily-supplement
An example of when supplements are great: https://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/pregnancy-and-kids/pregnancy/helpful-advice-during-pregnancy/folic-acid-iodine-and-vitamin-d
An article from the British National Health Service: https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/food-and-diet/do-i-need-vitamin-supplements/
A great article debunking the benefits of a common supplement: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-44845879
A perspective from the US: