The topic of dietary supplementation is becoming increasingly prevalent in the media.  The captions are eye grabbing, and without many exceptions, are superfluous exaggerations of the actual findings from the studies.  “Vitamins May Kill You” is the caption given to a study where a slightly increased, and barely statistically significant mortality is linked to vitamin usage, only after researchers manipulated the data to account for the variables they thought were important.  Now, do not get me wrong, as an evidence-based naturopathic doctor, I am very interested to learn all new research on the medicine I use: the indicated and contraindicated uses.  All I am saying is that the actual study findings are far less dramatic than the headlines the media conveys to the general population.

But, it is not the negative vitamin findings I am going to harp on here anyway.  For every ridiculous “Vitamins May Kill You” article, there is an equally ridiculous “Wonder Vitamin ____ Will Cure Your ____” one.  When it comes to our personal health, we are becoming lazy and irresponsible.  We have the unrealistic expectation that we can simply take a pill and make all of our health concerns disappear.  We have fully embraced the pill popping culture—whether it be prescription drug or dietary supplement.

Dietary Supplements as Justification for Lifestyle Choices

Too often I see supplements used inappropriately.  Instead of a tool for improving health, they are instead used to counteract poor health choices.  In other words, we are using them exactly opposite of their intended use.  We are so tuned in to “cure-alls” that we mistakenly believe that a supplement (a pill) will neutralize our health problems, when the only real problem is our behaviour.  We are then surprised when the supplement does not work.

  • Q – I am taking my supplement so why am I:  (a) not losing weight, (b) not feeling more rested, (c) not having improvements in blood sugar readings?
  • A – For the simple reason that: (a) you are not exercising and haven’t changed your diet, (b) you are not willing to modify your schedule to get more sleep, (c) you are still eating copious amounts of sugar.
Dietary Supplements Increase Risky Health Behaviours

For a while now, I have been noticing a correlation between supplement takers and poor health decisions.  Now, there is a study to back up my observation.  In the latest issue of Psychological Science, researchers found that people who take supplements are more likely to eat at a buffet over an organic food meal, are less likely to exercise, and more likely to engage in risky and promiscuous sexual practices.  They conclude that supplement takers have a false sense of security, and are more likely to feel invulnerable to negative health consequences.  Basically, people mistakenly believe that their supplement protects them by mitigating their poor health decisions.

Use Dietary Supplements to Maximize a Healthy Lifestyle

There is no such thing as a miracle vitamin or dietary supplement.  They will not fill the poor health voids in your life.  What they will do is help your realize your full health potential.  If you use them to offset your poor lifestyle, you are wasting your money.  However, if you use them *correctly*, and in conjunction with a healthy diet, regular exercise, and avoidance of known environmental/social toxins, your condition will improve.  Unfortunately, the correct medical usage of dietary supplements is a whole different conundrum, and far beyond the scope of this article—please seek expert advice, for the sake of your health.

Pill Popping Culture  

As long as we continue to view medicine in the form of a pill, we are not taking responsibility for our own health.  You can bet that fifty years down the road, medical experts of new will scoff at the way medications are used today.  People have become so comfortable with the notion that there will be a pill to save them in the end, that they do nothing to prevent poor health from occurring.  Sadly, even the medical system has adopted this view, turning people away, and telling them to come back when something is actually wrong—in other words, when it is already too late.  Pills should not be viewed as the solution for our health.  Proper lifestyle choices should be.  Supplement wisely, my friends!