You’re standing in aisle B at the pharmacy, staring at hundreds of supplements that all claim to have different health benefits. You may feel lost and confused when it comes to supplements and you are not the only one.
Supplements claim to provide a myriad of benefits, from weight loss to accelerated health and physical strength. Most American diets lack the recommended amounts of essential vitamins and minerals, so it is easy to see why over half of Americans take a supplement, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Until recently, evidence either supporting or denying supplement claims have been fairly limited. However, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology shed some light on supplements in terms of overall cardiovascular health.
The study shows that all supplements are not created equal. Certain supplements show a slight benefit for heart health, while others show no effect. Some are even detrimental to overall heart health.
Let’s start with the supplements that are beneficial: Folic acid is associated with better overall heart health and stroke prevention. The study found that there is some evidence linking folic acid to this benefit. B vitamins also prove beneficial in stroke prevention. While this evidence is not strong, it is a starting point.
Multivitamins are one of the most common supplements used, but how does their claimed benefits measure up in reality? According to this study, multivitamins show no benefit for cardiovascular disease. The same is true for calcium, vitamin B, vitamin C, and selenium. There is also a set of supplements that show an increased risk of cardiovascular disease with its use. These supplements are antioxidant mixtures and niacin (with a statin).
Whatever claim you see on a supplement, it’s important to take this with a grain of salt. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor these supplements or approve them as drugs before they go to the market.
Remember that supplements do not substitute food. Vitamins and minerals are better absorbed from food than supplements, so it’s important to consume a balanced meal, regardless of the supplement you are taking.