Why are some doctors against nutritional supplements?

There are several reasons doctors might be against nutritional supplements. Most experts recommend that people get their nutrients from food rather than supplements. One reason is it's more pleasant to eat something than pop a pill -- the simple pleasure of eating food rather than taking a pill.

Foods also contain a greater variety of nutrients in one package. For example, you might take a pill with the same amount of vitamin C as an orange -- but by eating the orange, you're also consuming fiber, water, small amounts of calcium and protein, a nice punch of potassium and several antioxidants that could potentially help you fight disease. Also, it's hard to overdose on a nutrient by eating foods that contain it, but it's relatively easy to take too much of a single nutrient in supplement form, and too much so certain nutrients could have potentially dangerous side effects.

Finally, research on the benefits of supplements is mixed. Although there's good evidence to support some recommendations for them (for example, that pregnant women should take folic acid to prevent birth defects), the evidence in other cases is less strong. For example, an expert panel put together by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reviewed studies on multivitamins and concluded there wasn't enough evidence to recommend for or against their use in the prevention of chronic disease. For more information about supplements, talk to your doctor.
Brian Tanzer
Nutrition & Dietetics
It isn't that physicians are against nutritional supplements, but rather they are against the incorrect use of supplements of poor quality. In addition, until recently nutrition, and more specifically the research and clinical applications of nutritional supplements was not a required component of the medical school curriculum. Several physicians have taken the lead on having nutrition as part of mainstream medical education i.e. Andrew Weil, MD, Mehmet Oz, MD and others. Given the support of physicians like this, we are beginning to see a change in the way physicians view dietary supplements.

High quality supplements that are manufactured by companies that go to great lengths to ensure the quality and safety of their products, are now becoming part of mainstream medicine. There's still a long way to go, but I believe that we are heading in the right direction. It's going to take time, research and a significant effort from those at the forefront of nutritional medicine, but I believe nutritional supplements will soon be incorporated into the practices of more and more physicians.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
For doctors, one of the most frustrating aspects of the vast array of vitamins and supplements available is not that they don't work, but that we don't have any proof they actually do work. With the exception of a few basic vitamins (C, D, E, B, B6, B12, folate, niacin, and A) and a few minerals (calcium, magnesium, selenium, potassium, and iron), we have limited scientific information about the role and optimum dosages of most of the supplements on the market. For many minerals and vitamins, we know the minimum amounts of essential nutrients needed for survival -- the recommended daily allowances (RDAs) or the daily values (DVs). We know much less about the optimum doses for health and the prevention, retarding, or reversal of age-related disease, or aging in general. Most of what you learn in health-food stores has not yet been proven. It may prove right, it may prove wrong -- we just don't know.

Few or no scientific studies have investigated the vast majority of vitamins and supplements on sale at any local health-food store. Most are sold without any description of what they are, why they are good for us, or how we should take them. Many of them are unnecessary, and some are even harmful. Comfrey, long given as a cough suppressant, can actually cause severe and irreversible liver damage, a big price to pay for easing a cough.

Continue Learning about Dietary Supplements

Dietary Supplements

Whether you're visiting the drug store, grocery or natural food shop you'll likely find an aisle where there are jars and bottles of things for you to put in your body that are neither foods nor medicines. Ranging from vitamins an...

d minerals to fiber and herbal remedies, these supplements are not regulated in the same way as either food or medicine. Some of them are backed by solid research, others are folk remedies or proprietary cures. If your diet does not include enough of certain vitamins or minerals, a supplement may be a good idea. Natural treatment for conditions like constipation may be effective. But because these substances are unregulated, it is always a good idea to educate yourself about the products and to use common sense when taking them. This is even more true if you are pregnant or taking a medicine that may be affected by supplements.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.