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"What is actually in my herbal supplement?"
December 18, 2013 4:44 PM   Subscribe

Examine.com is "an independent organization that presents un-biased research on supplements and nutrition," and aggregates and analyzes studies on various supplements.
posted by the man of twists and turns (36 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
Coincidentally, this week the Annals of Internal Medicine declared "Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements," with respect to the quackery, pseudoscience, and outright dangers of the nutritional supplement business.

The issue contains several recent large scale empirical studies which drive the point home:

"We believe that the case is closed — supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults with (most) mineral or vitamin supplements has no clear benefit and might even be harmful."
posted by spitbull at 5:02 PM on December 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'll be keeping this bookmarked for future discussions of this sort of thing. It's nice and straightforward.

On the supplement front, spitbull, it's worth noting that "well-nourished adults" may be a smaller group than we hope! A multivitamin to keep your D and iron levels up will cause little harm and possibly a lot of good. But with more targeted supplements, skepticism is certainly the best starting position.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 5:24 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


In this issue, 3 articles address vitamin and mineral supplements for prevention of chronic diseases. The editorialists discuss the articles' findings and their implications for public health and research. They conclude that most mineral and vitamin supplements have no clear benefit, might even be harmful in well-nourished adults, and should not be used for chronic disease prevention.

I've never heard of anyone taking vitamins to prevent chronic diseases. I've personally always taken them because I have a terrible diet (am working on it) and live in the Pacific NW, where we don't get a lot of sunlight most of the year. I don't take supplements or anything as a replacement for whole meals, but sometimes I know I'm not eating well on a given day.
posted by gucci mane at 5:28 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oooohh, this is very clear and well-presented. I've been dithering on whether to get a Vitamin D supplement for a while, but this has pushed me on the side of yes. I can't be out in the sun without sunscreen, and I can't drink plain milk any more, so supplements are starting to look like the easiest way to guarantee my Vitamin D intake.

FWIW, the editor Herman Gill says: If there's only one supplement you're taking for your health and your diet is decent, it should probably be Vitamin D. I highly recommend taking Vitamin D instead of a multivitamin most of the time.
posted by yasaman at 5:32 PM on December 18, 2013


it's worth noting that "well-nourished adults" may be a smaller group than we hope!

No, really, it's not. By the definitions of most of the studies in question, the vast majority of Americans are sufficiently well, if not over, nourished.

And among other things we are learning, supplements simply can't replace dietary sources of the same nutrients. Bioavailability and metabolism are not the same. The idea that you can take supplements to even out a typically careless American diet (which is already rich in most of the nutrients you need, just over-rich in many you don't) is magical thinking. Almost all vernacular "common sense" reasons for why people take these things are confirmation bias/placebo effect at best, pseudoscientific as a matter of course, and magical thinking at worst.
posted by spitbull at 5:43 PM on December 18, 2013 [13 favorites]


The only pages you need:
Aphrodisiacs.
Semen protein levels - "surprisingly, a very popular inquiry".
posted by unliteral at 5:45 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, virtually all people take supplements in the belief that they are thwarting the chronic diseases associated with aging. I dispute that there is any other reason people would care about their nutritional intake. If not supplementing has no associated morbidity (chronic disease, otherwise known as "aging," includes any negative consequence of NOT having enough of any particular nutrient), then what is the reason you want to have a more balanced diet? It's not just "take this and you won't get cancer," it's "take this and you will be healthy."

What does "healthy" even mean if not "the absence of chronic (or acute) disease"?
posted by spitbull at 5:47 PM on December 18, 2013


Awww yeah silverhydra represent!

I've been using examine.com since pretty much it was created. It's an excellent source to find out whether whatever it is you're eating is marketing BS or actually useful to your goals. Site creator is really into nootropics right now, it will be interesting to see where he goes with that.
posted by theony at 5:59 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Examine.com is where I go for all my gains, it is good news.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:00 PM on December 18, 2013


And, yeah, if you're taking a fucking chewable C gummi and hoping it will stop your bowel cancer, then yes, you are wasting your money.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:02 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I dispute that there is any other reason people would care about their nutritional intake.

Your assumption is so flimsy that a few seconds of thought and googling led me to:
Sports and Fitness Support: Enhancing Performance.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:04 PM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I supplement Vitamin D because thanks to my work schedule (and especially this time of year) there's entire weeks where I don't even see the sun through a window.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:06 PM on December 18, 2013


And it's been proven that you don't need to! Save your money for cigarettes.
posted by Brocktoon at 6:08 PM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I supplement Vitamin D because thanks to my work schedule (and especially this time of year) there's entire weeks where I don't even see the sun through a window.

Yeah, this.
posted by entropicamericana at 6:12 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or, you know, Iowa. Seriously I leave in the dark and used to get home in the dark. Now I get an hour or two of daylight before I get gloomy. Yay!
posted by cjorgensen at 6:42 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


When I had a terrible diet, a multivitamin really helped keep my anxiety in check. Eating better helped more, so now I don't feel the need to take them, but still. And yeah, still take D. Also, B vitamins before bed do wonders for hangover prevention, noticeably better than water alone, because you are actively depleting your levels of those when you get shitfaced.
posted by jason_steakums at 6:51 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I enjoy the "common misspellings" at the end of some of the supplement listings: "Common misspellings for Milk Protein include milk, melk, malk, dairy, dery, dary."
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:21 PM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I love malk.
posted by odinsdream at 7:28 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Now with vitamin R!
posted by clockzero at 7:31 PM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Malk?
posted by Valued Customer at 7:33 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not only is the site an excellent resource, I have to say that the people that run the site are all excellent folks as well.
posted by james.nvc at 7:52 PM on December 18, 2013


Also, virtually all people take supplements in the belief that they are thwarting the chronic diseases associated with aging. I dispute that there is any other reason people would care about their nutritional intake.

As implied by the man of twists and turns above, there are millions of recreational and serious runners, cyclists, swimmers, footballers, etc., who want to make sure that not one red blood cell goes unmade due to lack of iron, or the equivalent shortages for other factors that impact on performance.
posted by kersplunk at 7:52 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I had a terrible diet, a multivitamin really helped keep my anxiety in check. Eating better helped more, so now I don't feel the need to take them, but still.

I went through a bad health period like this in my twenties, and taking a daily multivitamin was a big part of finally pulling myself out of it. I also committed to eating a lot better, and getting more exercise, and getting my sleeping patterns stabilized, and getting more sleep. After a period of months, I started feeling a lot better. Was it the multivitamins? Given the current science, it's looking more and more likely that the answer to that is no. It was all the other stuff, with the multivitamins at best icing on the cake. I certainly don't worry about them now, and haven't for a couple of decades.
posted by philip-random at 7:55 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


For professional athletes, there's another issue with supplements - ones that deliberately (due to misrepresentation) or accidentally (due to cross-contamination) contain banned doping substances such as steroids or stimulants.
posted by kersplunk at 8:08 PM on December 18, 2013


Delicious.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:57 PM on December 18, 2013


The first citation in the garlic article led to this 1994 paper entitled "Does garlic protect against vampires? An experimental study"
Vampires are feared everywhere, but the Balkan region has been especially haunted. Garlic has been regarded as an effective prophylactic against vampires. We wanted to explore this alleged effect experimentally. Owing to the lack of vampires, we used leeches instead. In strictly standardized research surroundings, the leeches were to attach themselves to either a hand smeared with garlic or to a clean hand. The garlic-smeared hand was preferred in two out of three cases (95% confidence interval 50.4% to 80.4%). When they preferred the garlic the leeches used only 14.9 seconds to attach themselves, compared with 44.9 seconds when going to the non-garlic hand (p < 0.05). The traditional belief that garlic has prophylactic properties is probably wrong. The reverse may in fact be true. This study indicates that garlic possibly attracts vampires. Therefore to avoid a Balkan-like development in Norway, restrictions on the use of garlic should be considered.
posted by euphorb at 8:58 PM on December 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Fenugreek is a product sometimes processed into breads, and sometimes supplemented. It can make urine and sweat smell of maple syrup. It also appears to be a libido enhancer, anti-diabetic and is pretty healthy; many people like the maple syrup urine aspect of it, conversation starter.
posted by XMLicious at 10:27 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, what do you do if you can't eat fruits or vegetables?
posted by KathrynT at 12:47 AM on December 19, 2013


I supplement Vitamin D because thanks to my work schedule (and especially this time of year) there's entire weeks where I don't even see the sun through a window.
posted by Pope Guilty

And it's been proven that you don't need to! Save your money for cigarettes.
posted by Brocktoon
Brocktoon, I get that you're probably just trolling for giggles. But cleverness aside, the site that we're talking about is pretty strongly in favor of D3 supplementation:
Supplemental vitamin D is associated with a wide range of benefits, such as increasing Cognition, immune health, bone health, boosting well-being, reducing the risks of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis, and even increasing Testosterone levels in deficient populations.

...

Editors' Thoughts On Vitamin D
If there's only one supplement you're taking for your health and your diet is decent, it should probably be Vitamin D. I highly recommend taking Vitamin D instead of a multivitamin most of the time.
posted by daveliepmann at 4:43 AM on December 19, 2013


So, what do you do if you can't eat fruits or vegetables?

Feed them to children. Eat the children.

IANAD
posted by Panjandrum at 6:47 AM on December 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


the cannibal's guide to good nutrition
posted by philip-random at 8:10 AM on December 19, 2013


So, what do you do if you can't eat fruits or vegetables?

The vitamin research explicitly isn't addressing a person whose severe dietary restrictions may make it extremely difficult to obtain necessary nutrients from their diet. In this case I'd think you'd want the advise of a qualified professional to help you make the most of your restricted diet while supplementing as necessary while being mindful of those nutrients that might be harmful at excessive levels. The research is talking about healthy, well-nourished adults who are likely taking a multivitamin to no benefit and possibly excessive doses of specific vitamins that are harmful at those high doses.
posted by nanojath at 8:38 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, what do you do if you can't eat fruits or vegetables?

I can understand not being able to eat some fruits or vegetables (e.g. an allergy to apples), but all of them? Is that actually a thing? Even citrus or cooked (to denature potential allergens) fruit?
posted by Thoughtcrime at 2:55 PM on December 19, 2013


My kid has fructose malabsorption disorder, which is basically IBS triggered by fructose, fructans & fructo-oligosaccharides (higher order saccharides based off fructose rings), and sugar alcohols like sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol. When she's not flaring, she can tolerate limited (like, really limited) amounts of bananas, berries, citrus, peas, and corn, and dark green leafy vegetables as well as VERY small amounts of broccoli, brussels sprouts, and bell peppers. I'm talking one serving per day total. When she is flaring, even those are off the table. Cooking makes no difference, as it doesn't change the fructose into not-fructose.

She's much healthier now that we've taken all her no-good foods out of her diet, which includes not only most fruits and vegetables but also excessive sugar & wheat, legumes and most nuts, honey, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice, and agave, but malnutrition is a real concern. Even finding a multivitamin she can tolerate has been a rough slog frankly; I have a strong candidate coming in the mail, so keep your fingers crossed.
posted by KathrynT at 3:20 PM on December 19, 2013


Brocktoon: There was a "House MD" episode wherein a department store Santa
reported to clinic-bound House embarrassing IBS symptoms, and House prescribed
3 cigarettes a day. Dialog went something like, "What? They're poisonous and
addictive? Pretty much everything I prescribe here is poisonous and addictive.
We don't really know how or why they work, but cigarettes seem to alleviate
or eliminate IBS symptoms".
posted by Chitownfats at 6:17 PM on December 19, 2013


This does appear to be an above-average resource (for the intarwebs) as far as citations go but it's important to note that they are selling something and many of the testimonies from "other health and fitness professionals" about their book are by people listed as members of their advisory board on the About Us page.
posted by XMLicious at 12:43 AM on December 20, 2013


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