by Marion Nestle
Dec 23 2013

Alas, the bad news on dietary supplements continues

Over the weekend, the New York Times carried a front-page story about liver damage caused by an herbal supplement advertised as a “fat burner.”

It pointed out that as a result of a 1994 act of Congress, such products are virtually unregulated.  No federal agency pays much attention to their contents or claims, and Congress only lets the FDA take action against them after they are found to be harmful.

Fortunately, vitamin and mineral supplements rarely cause harm.  But the question of whether they do any good continues to trouble researchers.   As NutraIngredients_USA summarizes the latest rounds of research,

Stop wasting money on supplements, say physicians. Stop trying to position supplements as cures for disease, say industry groups.  An editorial panel of medical doctors (MDs) says the case is now closed for multivitamins: they don’t help well-nourished adults. But leading trade associations have defended the safety and efficacy of the products, calling the editorial, ‘close-minded, ‘one-sided’ and ‘overblown.’

The article refers to studies published in a recent issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.  These showed that multivitamin supplements did nothing to prevent heart attacks or cancer, or improve cognitive function.

This led to an editorial entitled:

Its conclusion: Most multivitamin supplements do no good; some may do harm.  If you are healthy, you don’t need them.

Not that this will stop anyone from taking them….



  • Miraida Morales

    Shouldn’t we discuss how eating a well balanced diet ensures you get the vitamins your body needs? Not only that, but in the combinations that are most effective.

  • Lorin Moss

    I wish someone would compair this to taking prenatal vitamins.

  • jeffjfl

    The Times article states: “Dietary Supplements account for nearly 20 percent of drug-related liver injuries that turn up in hospitals…”

    The “fat-burning” supplement causing liver injury was almost certainly adulterated with a drug or drug analogue. Any product containing a drug is not a legal dietary supplement. The FDA has full legal authority to seize such products and prosecute those selling them.

    The article suggests that green tea extract causes liver injury, but there is very little evidence to support this claim. Studies of green tea catechins show they actually repair and improve liver function:


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  • MileHighRoxy

    Supplements are intended to help boost the immune system and help the body manage and recover from stress. You can’t really expect them to cure disease. Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine have long, long histories of supplement use for these purposes. I take Ayurvedic formulas to help with stress caused by chaotic work hours and lots of shift work. I feel calmer, more patient, and better able to handle the demands of my job with much more focus. If I run out of my supplements and don’t have them for a week or more, I start to spiral out of control with moodiness, aggressiveness, and sleeplessness. I also sleep much better when I’m taking my supplements (it’s almost impossible for me to have a regular sleep schedule). Also, since a lot of my shifts are graveyard hours, I take a vitamin D supplement everyday (was diagnosed severely deficient several years ago, and now I must take at least 2,000 IUs everyday). When I was severely deficient, I was sick ALL the time.
    Also, with our soils being so deficient in nutrients from intensive farming and fertilizer use, our food is no longer as nutrient dense as it once else. Combine that with environmental pollution, and it certainly makes sense that most people should take a good quality WHOLE FOOD multi-vitamin. Synthetic, lab made vitamin formulas are pretty much useless. It’s the quality that counts. I only buy supplements and formulas that are certified pure and authentic.

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