Friday night topic: The great supplement scam?


— 5:00 PM on August 6, 2010

This topic comes from TR comments regular Meadows, who writes:

I can't seem to recall, but has "dietary supplements" ever been a topic? Just thought of it today after taking home another packet of pills that I never knew I actually needed. You know, the "Monster cables" of the human body.

I'll be honest; I haven't done my own homework on the subject, beyond having two close acquaintances working at pharmacies. They told me that they get a relative insight into the industry, and the whole campaign for vitamin pills, performance enhancers, essential minerals and nutrients, and other stuff is composed of part hoax, part urban legend, and has very little truth to it. One can hear allegations that nowadays, in this modern age, quality of produce has dropped dramatically and that - for example - you'd need to eat 80 (!) bananas every single day just to get enough B-vitamins for yourself. However, my pharmacists told me that these pieces of misinformation, commonly found on magazine front pages, are only part of the chemistry industry's campaign - and the industry is more profitable while people fear for their health.

While I know a number of "new age" families who watch what they purchase, and don't skimp on vegetable foods, quality sides for meat dishes, or the occasional salad, surely any number of gerbils here could also be people who regularly take vitamins instead - maybe even other substances - and don't realise that "an apple a day" might actually help better. Not to mention it wouldn't leave a funny taste in the mouth after swallowing.

Sure, some people might have a real necessity - for example, actual illness, or calcium tablets to help suppress some allergy, or anything of that sort - but others take them "just because". The geek crowd are no strangers to placebos, and yet, even I take magnesium pills for example because the box promised that it'll help upkeep my level of physical performance. (I don't think my caffeine pills qualify as a make-believe supplement though, because those sorts have a real measured effect and I use them because I can't stand the taste - and price - of coffee.)

Do you take vitamins or other supplements? If so, what sort and how many? Do you think some of the claims made for them are inflated?

Personally, I quit using zinc lozenges to treat a cold after reading that some folks have had their sense of smell damaged by zinc lozenges.  Not worth it.

Are makers of vitamins and "homeopathic" remedies just modern-day witch doctors, preying on the vulnerable?  Or are they offering a harmless and potentially beneficial product?  Discuss.

   
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