A new study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, looks at who uses supplements, how they use them, and potential risks.
The results of the surveys conducted between 2003 and 2006 were interesting, in several ways.
One of the first things that surprised me was that most of the people who indicated they used nutritional supplements didn't actually need them. These participants already had better diets and got enough nutrients through what they ate.
This means that taking vitamins and minerals only resulted in excess intake. While the risks from too much zinc or magnesium aren't known, taking too much calcium (in supplement form) has been linked to kidney stones. Excess iron is stored in the organs and can lead to cirrhosis and heart failure
Conversely, those participants who indicated no use of nutritional supplements also suffered from poorer diets. They were the ones, it appears, in need of additional minerals, yet they weren't getting / taking them.
One odd notation, in the article I read, related to the way people use supplements.
Everyone knows that there is an RDA (or whatever it's called these days) on containers of vitamins and minerals. Most of these items have been evaluated and the FDA has determined what the average individual needs every day. This is not the starting point for supplementation.
Yet, many of the survey participants were treating these numbers as the minimum amount - dosing upward from there. This almost guarantees, especially when their diet is sufficient, that individuals are getting too much of what they're taking.
Since researchers determined that those who need them least, take supplements most often, I have to wonder if it tends to boil down to income in the end. People who can afford supplements (which are not inexpensive) can also afford better quality food - fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean meats. They (possibly) eat less fast food, as well.
Individuals and families who are struggling financially, who can't afford more expensive meats and produce, probably can't afford vitamin and mineral pills to assist with the nutrition that their diets are lacking. Another catch-22 for families that are caught in the monetary crises crippling so much of society.
Just one more reason to make junk food more expensive, and lettuce, carrots, potatoes, and chicken breasts cheaper.