Are supplements a waste of money?

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Published January 08, 2014

| FoxNews.com

Several years ago supplements, including vitamins and minerals, weren’t something you found in every household. But in recent years the supplement industry has exploded into one of the fastest growing industries in the world, with revenue for nutritional supplements alone reaching about $32 billion in 2012, according to Forbes.  

But are the high prices of supplements worth it? According to a recent study published by the Annals of Internal Medicine, most supplements do not help prevent chronic disease. Since the newest research states that supplements show no clear benefits, does that mean that you should get rid of all of your supplements or are some worth keeping? 

Dr. Carolyn Terry, of the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas, believes that since the research is constantly changing, the most important thing to do when making a decision about whether or not to take vitamins is to talk with your doctor. 

“Check your blood levels before starting any supplement,” Terry said, to better help you, and your doctor, understand what you may need.

There are some supplements that are still worth considering. Vitamin D and omega- 3 fatty acids are two that Terry believes have a high potential benefit and low risk.

“So many people are deficient in vitamin D,” said Terry and the health risks of deficiency are numerous.

Since deficiency is asymptomatic, a blood test is needed to make an accurate determination of when it is needed – and it’s worth looking into. A deficiency in this important vitamin can lead to increased risk of osteoporosis and falls in the elderly.  

A number of medical studies have suggested an association between vitamin D deficiency and multiple sclerosis and increased cancer risk, especially colon cancer. But always remember to get medical advice concerning how much vitamin D to take, Terry said.

The FDA has approved omega-3 supplementation as being effective in improving triglyceride levels. According to The National Institutes of Health, fish oil can reduce triglyceride levels by 20 to 50 percent.

While research isn’t clear-cut concerning its effect on cognitive health, Terry advises that pregnant women get adequate omega-3 supplementation.

“The growing baby needs plenty of omega -3’s, particularly DHA, for optimizing brain and eye health,” Terry said.

According to Terry, vitamin B-12 and folic acid levels should also be tested regularly to ensure adequate levels. Vitamin B-12 deficiency can lead to anemia and is a treatable cause of dementia in the elderly.

“Folic acid is especially important for women of child bearing age,” said Terry, since deficiency can increase the risk of both neural tube defects and spina bifida.

However, multi-vitamins may not be quite as important as people once believed and may not be necessary for everyone. A recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that taking a multi-vitamin had no clear benefit. Whether or not a multi-vitamin is worth it depends on your individual levels and should be dependent on your doctor’s advice,  said Terry.

The decision of whether or not to take supplements should be one you discuss with your doctor after having your blood work checked. While many people get annual check-ups, not many get regular preventative care check-ups or comprehensive lab work done. Having regular preventative care check-ups and discussing your blood work with your doctor is the best way to truly know if you need any specific supplements – or if you’re wasting your money.    

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