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! "

The state of a new science

At present, the state of science on vitamin and mineral supplements may feel unsatisfyingly inconclusive. As the relatively new field of nutrition evolves, confusing claims will keep coming: Calcium may help you to lose weight. (Debatable but, some say, yes.) Vitamin K may help prevent osteoporosis. (Likely, according to recent research.) Newly discovered “utopia-phenol” erases wrinkles, smoothes cellulite and enhances sexual prowess. (Now wouldn’t that be nice?) Over time, some preliminary findings will be confirmed in clinical trials and, eventually, get incorporated into nutrition recommendations; others will be disproved and go away. (Expect answers slowly: the NIH’s Office of Dietary Supplements is funding good research, but its financial resources pale in comparison to the dollars we spend on supplements.)

Meanwhile, get savvy about supplements. When you read about benefits backed by “scientific studies,” don’t take that as gospel. But don’t become a total cynic, either. “Preliminary” studies aren’t bunk; it just takes decades to produce conclusive findings.

Maret Traber, the vitamin E expert from Oregon State, suggests that those who are struggling with whether to take supplemental vitamin E (in light of inconclusive research on its benefits) could take a basic multivitamin/mineral supplement that supplies 100 percent of E as well as other nutrients’ daily values. By doing so, one forgoes the potential (unproven) benefits of higher doses, but “right now, we just don’t know what is a sufficient dose,” says Traber. “A multivitamin/mineral is a smarter approach.”

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