CDC: 10 Percent of Americans Don't Get Enough Vitamins, Nutrients
Most Americans get enough vitamins and nutrients. That's according to a report published this week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that about 10 percent of the U.S. population has nutritional deficiencies, mostly for vitamins B6, D, and iron. Deficiency rates vary by age, gender, and ethnicity, the report suggests. Non-Hispanic black people and Mexican-Americans, for example, were more likely to be vitamin D deficient than non-Hispanic whites, while children were at increased risk for iron deficiency. Women ages 20 to 39 had the lowest levels of iodine, which is important to those of childbearing age, since iodine contributes to brain development of the fetus during pregnancy. "These findings are a snapshot of our nation's overall nutrition status," Christopher Portier, director of the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health, said in a statement. "Measurements of blood and urine levels of these nutrients are critical because they show us whether the sum of nutrient intakes from foods and vitamin supplements is too low, too high, or sufficient."
Popular but Dangerous: 3 Vitamins That Can Hurt You
If you tuned into The Daily Show in February, you would have heard Jon Stewart's guest, David Agus, a physician and author of the new best-selling book The End of Illness, fret about what could be called America's vitamin abuse problem.
There have been 50 large-scale studies on supplements, he said, and not one has shown a benefit in heart disease or cancer. "I don't get it," he said. "Why are we taking these?"
Agus is not alone in his frustration. Other experts liken buying vitamins to flushing money down the toilet. In some cases, they mean it literally: If the body gets more of certain vitamins than it needs, it often excretes the excess in urine.
That doesn't stop Americans from spending about $28 billion a year on dietary supplements, including vitamins and herbal supplements.
In some cases, people may be spending money only to put their health at risk. "As Americans, we think more is better, but that's not the case with vitamins," says Dee Sandquist, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Here are three popular vitamin supplements that prove you can, in fact, get too much of a good thing.
1. Vitamin E. Supplement skeptics often point to the story of vitamin E, which was once considered a promising tool for cancer prevention. The National Cancer Institute was so hopeful that vitamin E supplements would decrease rates of prostate cancer that in 2001 it funded a study designed to test the theory. Instead, the findings revealed that the men who took vitamin E were 17 percent more likely—not less—to develop the disease. [Read more: Popular but Dangerous: 3 Vitamins That Can Hurt You]
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4 Herbal Supplements Your Doctor Hates
More than half of Americans have taken a dietary supplement, and it's easy to see why. Popping a pill is painless. Supplements don't require a prescription from a doctor. And there's always some hale bloke out there who will vouch for the miraculous health improvements he experienced while taking this or that herbal remedy.
Plus, herbals often seem safer than drugs and other treatments. If a supplement can be found on stores' shelves alongside healthy foods, it must be wholesome, right?
Wrong. Of the 30,000 products rated by the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, an independent research and publishing organization, less than one percent earned a top score for safety, effectiveness, and quality.
Unlike prescription medications, dietary supplements aren't reviewed or approved by the FDA before they go on sale. And, although manufacturers have been required to prove that new supplements are "reasonably expected to be safe" since 1994, a recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine found that this law is largely unenforced.
"Consumers have the idea that the people who are selling herbal remedies are doing it out the goodness of their hearts," says Lauren Streicher, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. But supplement makers are even more profit-driven than pharmaceutical companies, which are subject to FDA review, she says. "Does the FDA make mistakes? Yes. But they're the only protection we've got to make sure greed doesn't get in the way of science." [Read more: 4 Herbal Supplements Your Doctor Hates]