We know that… So why is all going the wrong way?
As goes America, so goes the world – or so it would seem when it comes to health trends. Current statistics in the US, alas now paralleled elsewhere in the developed and developing world, show that:
- 60 percent of Americans have a chronic disease
- 40 percent have multiple chronic diseases
- Chronic disease is responsible for seven of 10 deaths
Put simply, chronic disease is destroying our quality of life, bankrupting governments, and threatening the health of future generations.
Unfortunately, there’s every indication that it’s going to get worse before it gets better. You have only to visit a neighbourhood shopping mall practically anywhere in the world and you quickly see why that is.
The findings of the recent Blue Cross Blue Shield report on the health of millennials confirm an especially worrying trend.
It found that:
- After age 27, all major measures of health for Millennials begin to decline sharply
- Millennials have higher rates of common health conditions than their Gen-X predecessors did at the same ages
- As their health continues to decline, Millennials are going to be a huge financial burden on the already overwhelmed healthcare system
It appears that Millennials are the canaries in the coal mine when it comes to the future of our overall health if we don’t reverse the alarming and early rise in chronic disease.
And yet how can this be when so many of us seem to be so concerned about our food, our health and wellness?
Consider: half of American adults-including 70 percent of those aged 65 and older-take multivitamins. That’s a lot of people and a lot of money spent.
But is taking a multivitamin really a good idea? Does it really increase your lifespan, or reduce the risk of disease?
The answer is “no”….. not according to the bulk of the scientific studies that have examined the topic.
One such study, the latest published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, examined data from about 31,000 participants. It found that adequate intake of nutrients from foods reduced the risk of death, but supplemental nutrients did not have the same effect.
In fact, excess intake of certain supplemental nutrients, like calcium, actually increase the risk of death.
The essential conclusion has to be that we should get as many of our nutrients from real food as possible. The inescapable fact is that you simply cannot supplement yourself out of a bad diet from a bottle.
But does that mean there’s no place at all for supplementation?
No, it does not.
In a recent review of multivitamins, the website Examine.com maintains that certain people may benefit from a multivitamin, including those who are at risk of nutritional deficiencies and are not able to change their diet (e.g., pregnant women, the elderly, and people following calorie-restricted diets).
It has to be said too, that the quality of the multivitamins that people take varies wildly. Few studies do anything to assess the possible difference in effect that people taking high-quality multivitamins with high enough doses to do any good.
Looking beyond multivitamins, there is also a place for what can be termed “selective supplementation.” This involves taking particular nutrients for a targeted purpose, which may include:
– correcting a deficiency that is identified via lab testing
– treating a condition (e.g., taking vitamin A and zinc when you have a cold, taking magnesium for constipation, etc.)
– achieving a certain effect (e.g., taking NADH for energy, taking a nootropic for mental clarity)
– taking supplements selectively is not the same thing as taking a multivitamin to try to escape the effects of a bad diet or simply as an insurance for any nutrients that may or may not be missing in your diet.
That’s why it is plain silly to claim that “supplements are useless” as to assert that they do work. Both claims citing research to back conclusions for which we can have no good idea as to their validity.
You cannot make an intelligent statement about “supplements” as a category. It’s too broad and diverse. Some supplements are helpful, some are neutral, and some are harmful. Reports in the media on latest research findings are more likely to confuse and misinform than provide reliable information on which to base a decision.
As ever, the devil is in the details.
The essential truth is supplements can work but most won’t. The main reason for that is that the majority of nutritional supplements are incorrectly formulated or simply do not have enough of the necessary active ingredient to have a therapeutic effect.
More to the point very few of us are in a position to judge correctly what if any supplemsnts would do us any good.
The first step anyone considering a supplemental regimen is to find out what nutritional deficiencies or excesses they have. Self prescribing is as likely to damage you as do you any good. It’s certainly a quick way to waste money. The smart thing to do is to consult an integrative MD or a clinical nutritionist to establish where and in what dosage any supplementation might benefit you. When you hit 50 is a great time to establish nutritional and hormonal benchmarks for this.
Yes, if you are smart and can find the guidance you need from a qualified quarter you can tweak things your way as you age.
But more important by far, at any age, is to eat real food in a widely varied diet that is fresh and to do so in moderation. No supplemental program will be able to provide the breadth of nutrition and health benefits such a diet brings you. There is no need to obsess or restrict yourself. Almost any natural food can have its place (and I do mean natural, go easy on the prosciutto).Probably the only substance to avoid or at least restrict is sugar, particularly refined sugar. That does not mean “sweet” is out, merely that the sweetness comes only in its natural, unpressed or non-processed form.
If that last sounds easy, it is not. It is hard to eat out anywhere and find real food that is fresh, not over-seasoned nor sweetened to hell and back. To eat this way at home is quite a committment also. Nonetheless the benefits of doing so are huge. Eating slow, eating real and doing it with friends is going to do a lot more for you than any supplement.
Alas, the science may be clear on this but culturally we are headed the wrong way and that I fear is not going to change any time soon.
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