You can't fool mother nature and there is no tricking a billion years of evolution. Despite advances in medicine and technology, your biology hasn't changed much and biology doesn't know what year it is. That means that you can't substitute a pill for a healthy lifestyle, and that also means that vitamin/mineral supplements are ineffective and can make you unhealthy in the long term.
I believe that the supplement industry's foundation is predicated upon a mass delusion that healthy eating (and the subsequent diseases that arise from a bad diet) is something that can be avoided if you are crafty enough. There's a certain level of magical thinking involved with this sort of thing, and this causes people to believe that healthy eating is just a nuisance, and only for those who aren't smart enough to pick out the right pill cocktail at the grocery store.
During my research, I had to read a lot of published studies on nutrition, disease, genetics and evolution. While studying evolution, we learned about a common myth, and why it is untrue. The myth is that evolution always moves towards perfection. For example, we like to think that evolution weeds out "bad" or "weak" genes and allows "good" or "strong" genes to survive, and with each generation we become more finetuned towards a more perfect species.
Evolution as a mechanism for perfection is false. If evolution moved towards perfection, dinosaurs such as Deinonychus (represented as the Velociraptor in the Jurassic Park series), who was a fierce, intelligent and master hunter, would have survived while a gentler, weaker, less intelligent animal like the green turtle would have died. But what ended up happening is the environment during the Jurassic Period favored the genes of the green turtle which allowed it to survive, and did not favor Deinonychus, which caused it and other dinosaurs to go extinct.
We also learned about the inefficiency of human biology. And it is absolutely inefficient when unnatural things are introduced into our body. Our body has gone through millions of years of evolution in a natural world, it is only recently have we been exposed to synthetic, human-made materials. And as a consequence, our bodies are not built to incorporate unnatural things and still operate with efficiency.
And this is why supplements for the most part do not work. Our body was engineered via evolution by natural selection to get our nutrition from food. Not from a pill. And when we try and get our nutrition from pills, our body just doesn't know what to do with it, and just discards it in the form of waste.
To visualize, we are trying to run Mac OS 10 software on a 1971 pocket calculator. It doesn't work, there is only so much a pocket calculator is capable of, and the rest of the information gets lost and is unused.
The reason why supplements are a problem is because most people use them in lieu of healthy eating. And there is always an excuse for not eating healthy in America. Or people take unnecessary medication that causes them to be deficient in a particular vitamin or mineral, and instead of giving up their pills, and taking on healthy eating (which may take away the health issue necessitating the medication in the first place) they just take more pills. But regardless of the excuse or reason for maintaining an unhealthy lifestyle, eventually the trading of food for pills will catch up with you.
For example, Lieberman et al. (2017) examined the claim that taking gingko biloba supplements could improve liver function and they found that subjects who take the supplement saw less improvement than those who just decided to stop drinking so much alcohol.
In a collection of Eighteen studies with 2019862 participants and 18363326 person-years of follow-up found that multi-vitamin and mineral supplementation does not improve cardiovascular outcomes in the general population (Kim et al., 2018).
Gray et al., (2008) found that taking vitamin C and vitamin E did not reduce incidence of Alzheimer's disease.
No free lunch
The finding that supplements have no ability to improve health may just cause some to shrug their shoulders and say, well it still couldn't hurt to take them just in case. But research has found that supplement use could actually cause health problems.
Studies have found the following risks associated with supplement use
1. Calcium supplements have no beneficial effect on reducing osteoporosis but will actually cause cardiovascular blockages and disease.
2. Vitamin C in supplement form acts as a pro-oxidant and can cause atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. Vitamin C supplementation in pregnant women has also been associated with low-birthweight of their newborn baby. Other studies have connected vitamin C supplementation to periodontal disease, higher risk of developing cataracts, and increased risk of developing calcium stone in kidneys.
3. Multivitamin use and increased risk for colorectal cancer
Adulteration and manipulation in the supplement industry
Marcus, D. M., & Grollman, A. P. (2012) discussed in their research on supplements and their consequences about how the lack of oversight in the supplement industry has led to contamination of vitamin supplements with prescription drugs and heavy metals. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, who governs the supplement industry in the United States, manufacturers of dietary supplements are not required to provide premarketing evidence of safety or efficacy or, prior to 2007, to report adverse events. And the increased consumption of supplements has also been accompanied by reports of serious adverse events due to supplement contamination.
What makes the adulteration and lack of regulation in supplements worse is that it is common for doctors to recommend supplements to their patients who have very serious diseases such as cancer. Despite the large number of trials that have been launched, the FDA has still not approved any dietary supplement or food to prevent cancer, halt its growth, or prevent its recurrence (Paller et al., 2016).
Further studies have found that supplement advertising is primarily based on false claims that have never been substantiated by any scientific study. Avery et al. (2009) in their examination of the health claims made by supplement companies in their advertising found that supplement companies would associate their supplement with serious health conditions and diseases, and in their advertising use subtle, yet convincing language that their supplements would cure such diseases, which is prohibited by the FDA. The authors of this report found that such supplement claims create confusion in interpretation and possible public health concerns. Their advertising would also include claims that a product is “scientifically proven” or “guaranteed” to cure an illness, which were largely unsubstantiated by clinical literature. Ads carrying externally validating seals of approval were highly prevalent, which further act as a manipulative advertising tool.
And as I have stated in previous Mask of Vanity articles, there is no such thing as "proven" in science, and clinical testing is largely a marketing tool to sell products.
What I do for my best skin
The only supplement I take is vitamin D3 because I do believe that the research conclusively shows that it is beneficial for health. Every other necessary vitamin and mineral I need I get from food. The research has shown time and time again that getting vitamins from supplements is no substitute from getting it from food.
In the past when I tried taking zinc, or manganese or any other supplement to try and improve my skin, I either saw no benefit or I saw a reduction in my skin's quality. It was only when I gave up these supplements and just made sure I drank plenty of water, ate a balanced, primarily vegetarian diet with exercise and a proper skin care regimen did my skin look better than ever.
There is no one weird trick with health. There is no gimmick. There is no secret. What you need to do for health just isn't what you want to do. You just have to get your nutrition from real, healthy food. It really is that simple, it has been done for millions of years.
Wendy Ouriel is the author of this article, a cellular biologist by research and background and the CEO of OUMERE.
Avery, R. J., Eisenberg, M. D., & Cantor, J. H. (2017). An examination of structure-function claims in dietary supplement advertising in the US: 2003–2009. Preventive medicine, 97, 86-92.
Baxmann, A. C., De OG Mendonca, C., & Heilberg, I. P. (2003). Effect of vitamin C supplements on urinary oxalate and pH in calcium stone-forming patients. Kidney international, 63(3), 1066-1071.
Kim, J., Choi, J., Kwon, S. Y., McEvoy, J. W., Blaha, M. J., Blumenthal, R. S., ... & Michos, E. D. (2018). Association of multivitamin and mineral supplementation and risk of cardiovascular disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, 11(7), e004224.
Gray, S. L., Anderson, M. L., Crane, P. K., Breitner, J. C., McCormick, W., Bowen, J. D., ... & Larson, E. (2008). Antioxidant vitamin supplement use and risk of dementia or Alzheimer's disease in older adults. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 56(2), 291-295.
Lee, D. H., Folsom, A. R., Harnack, L., Halliwell, B., & Jacobs Jr, D. R. (2004). Does supplemental vitamin C increase cardiovascular disease risk in women with diabetes?. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 80(5), 1194-1200.
Lieberman, H. R., Kellogg, M. D., Fulgoni III, V. L., & Agarwal, S. (2017). Moderate doses of commercial preparations of Ginkgo biloba do not alter markers of liver function but moderate alcohol intake does: A new approach to identify and quantify biomarkers of ‘adverse effects’ of dietary supplements. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 84, 45-53.
Marcus, D. M., & Grollman, A. P. (2012). The consequences of ineffective regulation of dietary supplements. Archives of internal medicine, 172(13), 1035-1036.
Nishida, M., Grossi, S. G., Dunford, R. G., Ho, A. W., Trevisan, M., & Genco, R. J. (2000). Dietary vitamin C and the risk for periodontal disease. Journal of periodontology, 71(8), 1215-1223.
Paik, J. M., Curhan, G. C., Sun, Q., Rexrode, K. M., Manson, J. E., Rimm, E. B., & Taylor, E. N. (2014). Calcium supplement intake and risk of cardiovascular disease in women. Osteoporosis International, 25(8), 2047-2056.
Paller, C. J., Denmeade, S. R., & Carducci, M. A. (2016). Challenges of conducting clinical trials of natural products to combat cancer. Clinical advances in hematology & oncology: H&O, 14(6), 447.
Poston, L., Briley, A. L., Seed, P. T., Kelly, F. J., Shennan, A. H., & Vitamins in Pre-eclampsia (VIP) Trial Consortium. (2006). Vitamin C and vitamin E in pregnant women at risk for pre-eclampsia (VIP trial): randomised placebo-controlled trial. The Lancet, 367(9517), 1145-1154.
Rautiainen, S., Lindblad, B. E., Morgenstern, R., & Wolk, A. (2010). Vitamin C supplements and the risk of age-related cataract: a population-based prospective cohort study in women. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 91(2), 487-493.