Are Vitamins Bad For You?

I apologize in advance for this rant, but hopefully you’ll allow me to go ahead, just this once even though technically I’m on a break from HJC until after the holidays.

True story.

Yesterday I went to one of my neighborhood “health-food” stores. There I watched as a clerk who I have seen repeatedly eating takeout from the extremely greasy spoon (I call the stuff they serve “über-goop”) across the street  sell $400.00 worth of supplements to a woman in her mid-to late 60s.

I’m sympathetic. Most health-food/natural-food stores make most of their money from supplements. The mark-up is double or triple (or more, depending), and they are expensive items. Food is cheap. Helping someone change their diet is very time-consuming and not very cost effective.

Some supplements do work—there is some science that shows they do. To be fair I believe that many if not most health-food store owners are committed to helping their customers. They believe in what they are selling and therefore spend time educating themselves (either formally or through years of informal study). They know that learning about what they sell, from supplements to shoyu, is an investment that will pay off.

However, many don’t. And many workers (and yes, some owners) in these stores know nothing about nutrition and (even more scary), nothing whatsoever about the person to whom they are recommending supplements. Some stores do have nutritionists or herbalists or those with years of what I call legacy-training on staff. But it is chilling to watch a clerk tell a middle-aged man whom he knows nothing about (does he have kidney stones? high blood pressure? IBS?), to take 1000 mg. of Vitamin C three times a day or to tell a frantic mother to dose her child with probiotics and then, if his diarrhea doesn’t clear up in a week, to check in with a doctor. I have watched this and other “consultations” happen (I try to shop at stores where the staff are trained so I can ask them questions about supplements I am unfamiliar with but sometimes I just pop into whatever store I happen to be near).

Part two of my rant is: don’t believe everything you read, especially about medications, supplements, and nutrition. Many articles in magazines and online are actually “advertorials”, in other words, long, wordy advertisements. Also, I can tell you with certainty that many if not most articles online and in articles are written by people who may be doing the research for the first time. I myself have been hired to write many articles (and even a couple books), on topics which I know little about (and yes, I do as much research as possible).

Obviously, you have to use good judgment.

Recently I recommended two supplements with years of scientific evidence to back up their use for a specific problem to someone who’s medical history I know. I did this because though I urged her to try and work with some dietary changes which would include larger amounts of these two nutrients, she said that wasn’t feasible for her right now. Fair enough. Not everyone is going to eat right. But you have to be a smart and serious consumer all the same.

Anyway, here’s the article that sparked today’s rant. And here is what was included in the $400.00 worth of supplements I saw being sold to the woman, yesterday: iron and zinc (see what the article has to say about them). Yes, there were supplements included as well, and not all of them were harmful. Some were merely harmless. And one had some evidence behind it as being helpful—in cases of infertility.

Not once did the clerk say as he recommended item after item to this woman (who complained largely of being fatigued and having a lack of energy): Have you spoken to a doctor? Have you had any tests? Do you know if your diet deficient in any nutrients? Do you have any chronic diseases or other health issues? Do you exercise regularly? Are you getting enough sleep? How much coffee are you drinking each day? Do you have noisy neighbors? Anything?

Key point of the article I linked to is way at the bottom, so you might have missed it: “Millions of Americans take these, but there just don’t appear to be a lot of benefits,” Jortberg said. “People take handfuls of supplements and they think that’s a substitution for a good diet. It’s just not.”

I agree. Be careful out there. End of rant.

Photo: I got this photo of the red currants from stock.xchng photos. It is by PLRANG Images for design. I was going to take a photo of the supplements I have at home but I couldn’t resist sharing these gorgeous currants with you. I believe that G-d created such beautiful fruit in order to delight our senses and inspire us to make an enthusiastic blessing over them. Of course, I’m sure He had other reasons.

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