The Best Dietary Supplements That Just Might Save Your Life

By Nicci Micco, Anna Roufos, "These Supplements May Save Your Life…," December 2006

The truth about vitamin and mineral diet supplements.

"I am glad that you alerted me to the danger of "overdosing" with calcium. My wife needs to know this! "

Fast-forward to today. We now have bottles of multivitamins—some, $50 formulas—promising “glucose control” or “stress relief,” packets of powder that, with water, morph into fruit-flavored megadoses of vitamin C, and chocolate chews that deliver more calcium than a glass of milk. Orange juices claim to supply nutrients that “support your body’s natural defenses” or “build healthy bones.” Waters are infused with 250 percent the recommended daily dose of vitamin C. Fortified cereals are old-school. Now, even snack foods are fortified.

“When you add vitamins and minerals to traditional food products, they sell better,” says Marion Nestle, Ph.D., professor of food studies and public health at New York University and author of What to Eat (North Point Press, 2006).

And there are good reasons why. Americans can be a nervous bunch when it comes to their health, says Nestle. “Supplements help relieve some of that anxiety—and marketers take advantage of the anxiety to push products.” It isn’t difficult to imagine how, over a decade, Americans’ supplement obsession might have snowballed: bombarded with messages that suggest staying healthy requires eating more of certain nutrients, mothers started urging their adult daughters to consume more calcium; adult daughters began persuading aging fathers to take vitamin E. Health-concerned consumers facing landmark birthdays reflected upon preceding decades (“that was some hard living”), concluding that maybe it wasn’t too late (“Might still be time to mop up some free radicals, undo some damage”). And so it goes.

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