We all know how important it is to consume enough vitamins and minerals, and for the most part, we all know that the best way to receive all the nutrients we need, is through our food. However, sometimes it’s pretty hard to get the nutrients you need from food alone. I know I struggle with this problem. I don’t have a big appetite, so when I do the math on the nutritional content of the food I eat every day, I pretty much always come up short. Getting everything I need from food alone is next to impossible.
And that’s where supplements should fill the gap. If you’re lacking in a particular nutrient, you can just take a vitamin and everything will be fine, right?
Like most things in life, it depends on who you ask, and if you asked the media, you’d think that these things are going to put you in an early grave. Every year or so you’ll probably hear about a new study that claims this or that supplement is going to reduce your life expectancy.
Many of these are animal studies that are difficult to compare to humans, or perhaps they’re forgetting that correlation does not imply causation. After all, if someone has health problems, they’re probably more likely to start taking supplements, which may or may not elevate their life expectancy to normal levels. And those are just a few of the ways that these studies are often flawed.
Ultimately though, most studies in general are difficult to validate. The only way to know for sure if a study is legitimate, is if someone else tries to duplicate it, which isn’t exactly easy for the average person to do. So instead of looking for a scientific study to prove or disprove the safety of supplements, we should look for hard numbers that are already indisputable. We should find out how many people that we know of, have actually died from taking too many supplements. The truth surprised even me.
According to a report issued in early 2015 by the U.S. National Poison Data System, not one death had been attributed to a nutritional supplement in 2013, the most recent year information was collected and reviewed. Its latest 251-page report contains data from 2.2 million poisonings reported by 55 American Association of Poison Control Centers. The findings were published in the journal Clinical Toxicology.
The American Association of Poison Control is the body responsible for maintaining the National Poison Data System (NPDS), a database of information on more than 60 million poison exposures reported since 1983. NPDS is considered the authoritative voice on poisonings, and the only database of its kind in the country.
Nutrition-based health advocates are quick to emphasize the results show no deaths due to any type of dietary nutritional supplement, including zero deaths from any amino acid, herbal, or mineral products. Yet, according to USDA survey data, much of the U.S. population remains deficient in a number of vitamins and minerals, based on Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs).
While one could argue that consuming too much of any supplement can harm your long-term health, it’s really hard to argue with a safety record like this. If it’s so difficult for someone to overdose on a supplement in the short-term, that it’s practically unheard of for someone die from that, then I suspect that the long-term consequences are probably overblown.
That’s not to say that it’s not possible. Obviously, if you take too much of anything it can kill you. There is a threshold for every substance on Earth. But the statistics provided by the NPDS suggest that the recommended doses for supplements and multivitamins, are probably harmless for the vast majority of the population.