• James Tippett MD

The Dietary Supplement Frenzy

An analysis by the CDC has estimated that Americans spend over $30 billion annually on dietary supplements, called by some as “a complimentary approach to health”. This expenditure represents 10-15% of all out of pocket spending on healthcare. If the cost of visits to naturalistic providers or complementary practitioners is included, the expenditure increases to over 20%. These providers also sell and market natural products and out of pocket outlay to them for their services and products has been estimated at $14 billion. This represents about 30% of the amount spent out of pocket on services provided by traditional physicians.

Thousands of dietary supplements including vitamins, minerals, botanicals, and weight loss substances, are obviously big business and makes up about 10-15% of all grocery store sales with profit margins for these products 10 times higher than food products purchased. The number of supplements has grown from about 4000 in 1994 to over 80,000 today. Approximately 75% of Americans take some type of supplement.

This information is very disconcerting because a number of studies have been unable to demonstrate any health benefits to the majority of these compounds, including multiple vitamins or any dose of a single vitamin when used for health maintenance and disease prevention. Obviously, some vitamins are necessary for certain disease states or documented deficiencies.

In addition to the lack of proof that they are beneficial, another concern is that consumers have no way of knowing what they are purchasing, despite what is claimed on the label. The FDA, with a limited budget, only spot test about 1% of the thousands of supplements on the market.

Another issue occurs in people who are taking prescription medications because there is always the risk for drug interactions. People should definitely inform their physician if they are using supplements or any other OTC products.

Long term untoward side effects are a possibility. Years ago, vitamin E was recommended to prevent heart disease because of its antioxidant properties. Large populations of patients using vitamin E were studied and it was determined to be of no benefit; however, it was found that males in the study group had a 17% increased incidence of prostate cancer. There was also a period of time when supplemental vitamin A was recommended, also for its antioxidant properties. Again, quality studies showed no health benefits, but an increase incidence of lung cancer was noted in the studied patients.

The obsession of the public for supplements was demonstrated in 2012 when the “pseudo-physician” and TV personality, Dr. Oz, declared the product garcinia cambogia a “revolutionary fat buster”. Sales of the fruit extract exploded. On his TV show he had made similar proclamations about other products for various diseases. Oz was called to testify before Congress and admitted there was no scientific evidence to support his claims about any of the products that he had recommended. Despite this admission, sales of garcinia cambogia declined only minimally and remains available on shelves today. Since that time, the product has been found to be associated with severe liver disease.

There has been strong scientific evidence for many years that whole food diets rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and fish decrease the risk for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and most recently dementia.

It seems obvious that people prefer to continue the Standard American Diet (ironically abbreviated SAD) which is three full meals a day that frequently consist of sugars, saturated fats, and processed foods. They then attempt to placate themselves by taking various supplements to cover their lack of healthy foods in their diet. The reality is that the supplements do not contain many important bioactive micronutrients and minerals that are lost in the processing of bottled/packaged ‘nutrients’.

So, consider using healthy whole foods processed in a blender into a smoothie. Many people do not consider some of the healthiest veggies to be palatable but when incorporated into a smoothie with fruits their taste is masked. Healthy nuts and seeds can be included in the concoction and it can be diluted with yogurt, almond milk or coconut milk and if sweetness is desired, use honey or agave nectar. A complete healthy meal in a 16 oz. glass with multiple ingredients can be prepared in minutes with minimal clean-up. Another benefit is this avoids cooking veggies which sacrifices some of the nutrients.

So, come on folks, nix the processed bottled and packaged “nutrients”, save your money, and go for healthy whole foods. It is not problematic to occasionally, treat yourself to whatever food is your favorite – a quality of life issue!

Original article by James Tippett, MD founder of Comprehensive Quality Healthcare Providers, a concierge internal medical practice, located at 1210 Commerce Dr. Greensboro, Ga. 30642. He can be reached at 706-510-3659. Visit his webpage at



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