So should you take any supplements? The answer to this question cannot be based on broad generalizations made from singular studies. I believe this is an ongoing conversation with your doctor, who hopefully sees him or herself as a team member in your care, not the sole director of it.
A recent study brought into question the utility of supplements in enhancing health, and even questioned whether supplements increased the risk of death. What was omitted in the spectacular headlines was the author’s own conclusion: “It is not advisable to make a causal statement of excess risk based on these observational data…” In other words, you cannot say that supplements lead to more deaths, simply because it was observed that the group of women taking supplements seemed to have a higher mortality rate.
In rebuttal to the study’s apparent conclusions, two interesting viewpoints have been published, for which I provide links here.
Vitamin supplements: more harm than help? by Dr. Ian Chapman
Thorne Research’s Rebuttal to the Question of Safety of Dietary Supplements. by Alan Miller, ND and Robert Roundtree, MD
The debate is on, but we need to read through these studies with a fine-tooth comb before drawing conclusions. The sensational title in the NY Times, “More Evidence Against Vitamin Use,” is a bit fantastical given the actual conclusions that can be made from this observational study, with a number of flaws as pointed out by the two articles above.
My patients know that I recommend different types of supplements, sometimes for brief periods and targeted uses.
First and foremost, I recommend a balanced diet rich in nutrients we can only get from whole foods. Supplements are just that — supplements. They are not substitutes for a poor diet, no more than lipitor should be an excuse to eat a steak every night.
An integrative, functional approach to patient care takes into account the individual circumstances of each person when designing what is right for them. To simplify care into broad statements based solely on singular study conclusions is hubris and a mistake often made in Western medicine.
A person is not a study, no more than a study is one person.
Yes, we need our studies, but we have to analyze what types of conclusions can be drawn from them carefully. As a doctor in clinical practice, the challenge is always to interweave what we know is the best evidence with how we know the individual patient in front of us responds to treatment. They don’t always coincide. And therein lies the art of medicine.
Ultimately, we are in charge of our own health with our doctors as team leaders. You should be a co-director in your healthcare. Your doctor should be someone you can have a conversation with about these issues, and together make a decision that makes the most sense for you and your individual circumstances. This individual approach to healthcare makes the most sense.