Sunday, September 23, 2018

Popping Vitamins Or Other Dietary Supplements?

I often get patients asking me if there's something they can take to recover faster (from their injury). Most of them seem to be taking some form vitamins or other dietary supplements already.

Have a look the next time you walk into a Guardian or Unity Pharmacy here. You’ll see lots of vitamins and supplements there for sale. Not to mention the few sales assistants who will tell you what you need to be taking.

In fact, earlier in April this year, The New York Times published an article on how older Americans are hooked on vitamins.

Do we really need to be taking any extra vitamins and supplements. I've written before why there is no evidence for taking glucosamine. If you're interested you can read more here.

This may seem as a shock for those of you who are already taking vitamins or any sort of dietary supplements. Many supposedly muscle building supplements make unproven claims and may even come with side effects.

In the journal article referenced below (Gliemann et al 2013), researchers found that resveratrol (an antioxidant found in red wine) actually limited the positive effects of cardiovascular exercise. It affects your VO2 max when taken daily in high concentrations.

Those of you who take fish oil supplements beware. There is evidence that men with high levels of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA in their blood (from the fish oil supplements) are at a higher risk of getting prostate cancer.

In fact, well known researcher Professor Pieter Cohen (who was sued by a supplement maker but Cohen won) said there are only two types of supplements. Those that are safe but don't work. And those that might work but have side effects, especially at higher than normal levels.

Most vitamins are in the first category. Taking a multivitamin daily will not harm you, but it usually won't help too much either. This is why major health organizations don't recommend supplements to healthy people.

Now don't get me wrong here, If you don't have enough Vitamin C, you can get scurvy. Without iron, you can become anemic. And if you don't get enough sunlight, you may need some Vitamin D. However, all three of the above can have negative effects at high doses. Same for Vitamin E and calcium.

Unless blood tests show that you're super deficient in a particular vitamin or mineral, there is no evidence that you should be popping those pills. Even so, it's better to be getting them from real food sources.

If you're an athlete, and you're taking antioxidants to boost recovery take note of what Dr Mari Carmen Gomez-Cabrera (who is a world leading researcher on anti-oxidants) published. The antioxidant pills that you pop suppresses the oxidative stress that signals to your body to adapt and get stronger. Meaning regular use of something seemingly mild and innocent like Vitamin C can actually block gains that you've trained so hard to get in your endurance boosting mitochondria (cells).

Dr Gomez-Cabrera suggests eating five servings of fruits and vegetables daily and you won't need to pop vitamin or other pills.

To put it bluntly, vitamins and other dietary supplements just plain useless or worse than useless. Of course you can still buy them and take them if you wish. You're just lining the pockets of those of manufacture and sell them.


Cohen P, Travis JC et al (2014). A Synthetic Stimulant Never Tested in Humans, 1,3- Dimethybutylamine (DBMA), Is Identified In Multiple Dietary Supplements.  7(1): 83-87. DOI: 10.1002/dta.1735.

Gliemann L, Friss J et al (2013). Resveratrol Blunts The Positive Effects Of Exercise Training On Cardiovascular Health In Aged Men. 591(20): 5047-5059. DOI: 10.1113/physiol.2013.258061.

Gomez-Cabrera MC, Domenech E et al (2008). Oral Administration Of Vitamin C decreases Muscle Mitochondria Biogenesis And Hampers Training-Induced Adaptations In Endurance Performance. Am J Clin Nutr. 87(1): 142-149. DOI: 10.1093/acjn/87.1.142.

PS -After I wrote the article, another patient who runs frequently asked about taking magnesium for muscle cramps. Read the article I wrote on what causes muscle cramps and save your money.

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