I like supplements. In fact, I take about 20 pills per day, including Vitamin C, Fish Oil, Pterostilbene, and PQQ. Fortunately, studies show that people that take this number are actually healthier than the general population (which is true of me). However, just because something is labeled a “supplement” or even “vitamin” or “mineral” doesn’t mean supplementing with it is a good idea. It is important that anyone who takes a supplement (or follows a diet) understands the risks involved.
There are obvious supplements to avoid – overpriced weight loss scammy ones, the ones that are adulterated with steroids, and of course herbs with sketchy safety records, like Kava Kava and Comfrey. However, men (and in some cases women) should avoid these supplements listed below entirely (unless there is a solid therapeutic reason), and instead get them from food (and even then, limiting them could be a good idea).
All of the supplements below are contained in most multi-vitamins, which is why I don’t take one. I think it also may explain why some studies show no benefits to taking a multi, because these chemicals are negating any positive effects from other nutrients in the multi. Also, fortification of cereals (the worst being “Total”) causes consumption of high levels of these nutrients.
We have heard for years about how important Calcium is for bones, but recent studies suggest it doesn’t strengthen bones. In fact, other factors, such as high-dose Vitamin D, Vitamin K, Magnesium, and even Boron may be more important to bone health. It is possible Calcium intake isn’t a problem for your bones, so much as Calcium metabolism, which means taking a lot of Calcium may just mean it ends up in the wrong place…like inside your arteries instead of inside your bones. Yeah…a recent study shows that taking calcium supplements doubles your risk of heart disease. Stick to getting Calcium from food, and make sure your Vitamin D and Magnesium levels are healthy. I haven’t consumed it in a while, but Total Cereal used to contain 100% of your daily Calcium in one bowl…talk about a total heart attack waiting to happen!
3. Vitamin E
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) by itself, and in high doses, has been shown increase overall mortality (death). Personally, I prefer low-dose Vitamin E (200-400 IU per week) in the form of “mixed tocopherols” (beta, gamma, etc, tocopherol). In nature, vitamin E occurs mixed with other tocopherols which seem to prevent Vitamin E from having possible negative effects. The worst possible form of Vitamin E (dl-alpha tocopherol, a synthetic form of the vitamin that is half the effectiveness of natural d-alpha-tocopherol) often appears in multi-vitamins. This is yet another reason to ditch the multi.
2. Vitamin A
Vitamin A, found naturally as retinol in foods like liver, and as “pro-vitamin A” in foods with Beta-Carotene, was once touted as a way to prevent and even treat cancer. Unfortunately, studies have shown that taking it in supplemental form dramatically increases mortality. A famous Beta-Carotene study in the 1990s showed that rather than preventing cancer in smokers (as predicted), it actually increased the formation of cancers! Vitamin A and D compete for the same receptors, and we get way too much Vitamin A in the American diet, through foods and multi-vitamins. Whereas many Americans are deficient in Vitamin D, we have too much Vitamin A built up. This high Vitamin A content could explain why multi-vitamins don’t always fare well in studies.
Iron is necessary for healthy blood and other physiological processes in the body. However, excess iron may lead to cancer and heart disease. Studies show that when men donate blood regularly, i.e. get rid of Iron, their risk of heart disease and cancer drops. Pre-menopausal women lose blood regularly through their menstrual cycle, thus avoiding iron overload. Men have no way to get rid of excess iron (save donating blood or getting injured), and therefore are at a much greater risk of iron overload than a deficiency. Men need about 10 mg of iron per day, easily obtained from the American diet. Add 9 mg from a serving of breakfast cereal, 18 mg from a standard multi-vitamin, and 5 mg excess from a high-meat diet, and suddenly your iron is 32 mg, 22 mg over what you need. Since men have no real way to get rid of this excess, it builds up causing all sorts of problems.