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Invited Commentary
June 2017

Inconclusive Supplement Benefit, but Undisputed Advantages of Healthy Foods

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Preventive Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois
JAMA Cardiol. 2017;2(6):625-626. doi:10.1001/jamacardio.2017.0217

Few questions are more complicated for nutritionists and health care professionals than “Should I take a vitamin-mineral supplement?” Despite decades of evidence contributed by numerous well-conducted, carefully controlled studies among different age, sex, and racial/ethnic groups, the most accurate answer seems to be “Maybe or maybe not.” According to the Office of Dietary Supplements,1 most Americans, especially those 70 years and older, take at least 1 dietary supplement a day. For the past several years, Americans have spent more than $30 billion each year to do so,1 but data regarding overall benefit remain inconclusive. One of the reasons for this gap pertains to sheer volume. There are more than 75 000 dietary supplements now on the market.1 Beyond traditional vitamins and minerals, this total includes herbs and botanicals, fish oils, probiotics, fiber, glucosamine, flavanols, and countless other ingredients that may or may not be accurately regulated. With all these options, it is increasingly difficult to come to an evidence-based conclusion on benefit or at least achieve conviction that supplement use poses no harm. Instead, the equally equivocal answer to this follow-up question is “It depends.”