On Friday, the CBC aired a segment on supplements in their Fifth Estate episode “Magic Pills” – watch the full episode here. I watched it all and wanted to write something this week in response to all those left guessing about the supplement industry.
In the episode, they point out a few supplement brands, and allege that they have insufficient research to back up their claims. Heck, some of the products apparently don’t even contain what they are supposed to contain. I love love LOVE the fact that whoever watched this video is now going to be more aware of what they put into their body. Every person has the right to look at research and evidence and feel confident with what they take, and I appreciate the CBC bringing to light many of the gaps in Health Canada’s system (if you know me, you know that Health Canada is one of my pet peeves). Elsewhere on the CBC page is this article with the company statements – each company’s reply to the allegations with their own opinions, research and data. So if you are taking time to watch the episode, please take 5 extra minutes at the end and read this as well. Because a story always has 2 sides!
As a nutritionist, here is my take on the episode and how it might affect you:
- I promote and believe in the power of whole food. That is, foods in their natural state. I would much rather encourage someone to eat fresh vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, etc. than recommend they get ALL their nutrients just from supplements. Education on proper diet and how your body works is the key to vitality and empowerment.
- How should you think of supplements? Think of them as helpers along the way. They are meant to *supplement* a diet, not be the diet.
- However, there are some people that cannot rely on whole foods just yet. In the video, they compare a 1000mg vitamin C capsule to eating 8 cantaloupes. If you are diabetic, should you eat 8 cantaloupes? Hell no.
- The research paper shown about supplements being unnecessary has the phrase “well-nourished adults” riddled throughout it. Take a moment to ponder who they are talking about….“Community dwelling adults with no nutritional deficiencies”. One look on Pub Med, Google Scholar, and other reputable sources will instead riddle you with the phrase “nutrient deficiencies”, and I have yet to find one human without any deficiencies. It’s basically impossible! Of course, you can eat well and live a great healthy long life. But if you were to get a blood test done for every nutrient level, there would likely be a few that fall a bit short. Half the world’s population is affected by deficiencies in zinc, vitamin A and iron from lack of nutrient-rich crops (this article), and Health Canada reports that Canadian adults do not consume enough vitamin B6, folate or fibre (this article). Ever wonder why orange juice is fortified with calcium? Or iodine was put into table salt? It’s because of deficiencies in our soil, food, and environment. Even the food guide tells you to supplement (“everyone over the age of 50 should take a vitamin D supplement of 400IU”).
- We are all aware of the pharmaceutical industry’s influence over, well….everything. I’ll just stop there.
- If you feel you need a supplement, please talk to a qualified health provider or educator to figure out which ones might be a good fit for you specifically, given your history and health goals. A qualified educator will also be able to inform you on brands to choose that are good quality and have the most research behind them.
So there’s my take on the episode. If you are living a full, vibrant life consuming full, vibrant foods then you are already doing a great job! All supplements are not your enemy. I view supplements as helpers, just like air filters, spiritual activities, and ergonomic furniture. Educate yourself on good research-backed brands, and choose specific supplements that you really can benefit from based on your history and personal health goals.