Life Health Features

Sunday 17 December 2017

Dr Ciara Kelly: 'Healthy people don't need dietary supplements - It's expensive and possibly damaging nonsense'

Healthy people don't need dietary supplements. It's expensive and possibly damaging nonsense

Operation Transformation's GP Dr Ciara Kelly. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Operation Transformation's GP Dr Ciara Kelly. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Healthy people don't need to take supplements.

Ciara Kelly

Supplements are very big business. Lots and lots of us pop a multivitamin with our morning coffee. Some of us pop more than one. There are now supplements for just about everything.

Health food shops have whole walls of them. Pharmacies are the same. From Vitamin A to Zinc we are consuming vast quantities of capsules and tablets in the firm belief that they are good for our health. But are they? Do they add anything to our wellbeing whatsoever, apart from a feel-good factor that we have done something vaguely virtuous? The answer has got to be 'No'.

On an almost daily basis, patients come in and tell me proudly that they are taking everything from Ginseng to powdered Newt with the implication being they are doing something great, health-wise. But the truth is supplements are thought to add nothing beneficial really - apart from in very specific cases - and may, in fact, cause harm.

There are certain times you will benefit from a supplement. For example, taking folic acid in early pregnancy is very important - to prevent neural tube defects. Or taking iron supplements for anaemia. But most of us - particularly in the West - are not deficient in anything nutritionally speaking. If anything, it's the opposite - we're over-nourished. So we don't require any form of pill or tincture to top us up, especially as much of what's contained in these supplements can't be stored by our bodies, so it passes straight through us, unless we actually require it.

What's more, dietary supplements, much like drugs, have risks and side-effects attached to using them. But supplements are unregulated, so sellers aren't obliged to do research on their safe usage. And as supplements are self-prescribed, most people take them with no input from a health-care professional about possible problems associated with them. Indeed, most of them are bought on the say-so of a shop assistant. In various studies, up to 25pc of supplements sold over the counter, in health food shops, were found to contain steroids.

Thousands of people every year suffer from adverse reactions and side-effects from taking supplements. Over 100,000 calls a year are made to the US poison control centre regarding vitamins, herbs, protein powders and botanicals, and at least a couple of deaths a year are ascribed to taking them. And sadly, in essence no one even needs them.

February is cancer-prevention month, and The American Institute of Cancer Research, in their top-ten recommendations to prevent cancer, specifically mention not taking supplements as part of remaining healthy. It's up there with eat a healthy diet, move more and maintain a healthy weight.

Expensive. Useless. And possibly harmful. The supplements industry is completely focused on selling you products that you don't need, aided by the pervasive current health fashion that genuinely believes they're good if not great for you. Despite there being no actual evidence to support this. The love for supplements is up there with the devotion to organic food and the fondness for tossing back wheatgrass shots and the trend to stick all your veggies in a trendy blender and drink them.

The best thing you can do if you actually want to be healthy and nutritionally in tip-top shape is eat a widely varied diet very rich in plant-based foods. And use as many colours and types of fruit, vegetables and pulses as possible. That way, no nutrients are left out of what you eat and you have no need for expensive and possibly damaging nonsense. Stay alert, people. It's all marketing.


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