We could be generous and start by saying that the benefits of supplementation among the general population with vitamins, minerals, and various other substances (such as collagen, shark cartilage, omega three, and the like) is a matter of scientific debate. But it would not be true. The reality is that there is no debate as to its benefits in the circumstances mentioned. Instead science has a compelling reality: Nutritional supplements are between ridiculously effective and totally ineffective. And also, it may be dangerous. The debate, if any, could be found in the opinion of the general population of these products. An opinion that is highly mediated both by the interests of the industry that produces and puts them up for sale, as well as by the history of nutrition research as a science.
Beyond the interests of an industry interested in improving its balance sheet – like any other company – the manufacturers of nutritional supplements focus the bulk of their message on a wrong paradigm. Very successful for today’s consumers, but ultimately wrong. This is none other than the one established in the early and mid-20th century with the establishment of nutrition as an emerging science. In that context, it began by isolating nutrients (typically vitamins and minerals), that played a prominent role in various metabolic functions. In this way, by providing the adequate nutrients, the corresponding deficiency diseases so frequent at that time could be alleviated. But today the circumstances have changed. And a lot. Fortunately, there are no deficiency diseases in our environment; And if they occur, they are usually due to poor choices when making an adequate eating pattern. The most immediate solution is therefore to make better food choices, and include in the appropriate proportions those foods that incorporate this or that nutrient.
In the absence of deficiency diseases (scurvy, rickets, pellagra, goiter, beri-beri etc.) the scourge of our time is personified in the so-called non-communicable metabolic diseases (obesity, diabetes, cancer or cardiovascular disease) where poor food choices from a vast catalog – as large as it has ever existed – condition the health of citizens. And it turns out that we have studies that highlight that the current evidence does not support the routine use of multivitamin supplements to reduce mortality, cardiovascular disease or cancer in the case of people from developed countries.
Providing more of those nutrients to which we already have access from food is useless at best, and at worst, a risk by approaching – when not exceeding – the intake of that nutrient to the maximum tolerable limit ( present in food and present in the supplement). That is, when a beneficial and necessary substance for a certain function has already reached the appropriate values, giving more will not only not improve anything, but it may start to be more harmful than giving nothing.
So the convergence on the scientific message that nutritional supplements in our environment are ineffectively absurd, expensive, and lend themselves to unwanted effects. Let this be said with the necessary caveats that the study of each particular case requires based, for example, on those relating to pregnant women or to pathological problems in which the absorption and use of the various nutrients is particularly compromised.