Continuing December’s guest posts of Quizzify’s greatest hits…
The vast majority of your employees take nutritional supplements, whose consumption just reached an all-time high. That increase means someone, somewhere – maybe even your very own wellness vendor – is telling them this is a good idea.
Or maybe they are thinking: “Hey, what harm can they do?”
Plenty, as it turns out.
Here are six things employee should know about nutritional supplements.
1. Virtually all the benefits of supplements with virtually none of the risk can be achieved by taking a regular multivitamin
There is plenty of evidence for the health benefits of virtually all vitamins and minerals and even a couple of supplements, so much evidence that we have room to highlight only a few.
Examples include fish oil for menopausal women with dry eye or possibly people at high risk of heart attack. Or folic acid for pregnant women and iron for pregnant women who are anemic. Or Vitamin D for people who have dark skin, live in cloudy climates, avoid all sun exposure and/or don’t each much dairy. And of course, Vitamin B12 for vegans. (Vitamin B12 is found only in animal products.)
Women likely benefit from small combined extra amounts of calcium and Vitamin D…but as noted below, don’t overdo it.
The 10% of the population who drink to excess really should be taking daily multivitamins. This is partly because alcohol interferes with absorption, and partly because they aren’t getting enough calories from real foods.
And as we noted in Six Things Employees Should Know about Antibiotics, probiotic supplements are a very wise idea for employees taking antibiotics. Ironically, pouring bacteria down your throat is (at least in that circumstance) more beneficial than any megavitamin or mineral.
With these exceptions, most people should be getting enough vitamins (and prebiotics, which feed probiotics) in a balanced diet, but a few cents a day of an “insurance” multivitamin pays for itself just in the psychological benefit of not worrying about that. However, the story changes when we talk about megavitamins, and especially when we talk about other supplements.
2. Almost every megavitamin which once showed “promise” in fighting cancer, heart disease, etc. doesn’t. Quite the opposite, they may cause harm.
Niacin, once thought to have magical properties against heart attacks, has been completely debunked. Vitamin E supplements could prevent cancer in some women but cause it in others, depending on genes. Men who are concerned about prostate cancer (meaning all of us) should specifically avoid Vitamin E supplements, which likely increase the odds of it. Vitamin D in large quantities is the latest to be debunked, just last month. Taking too much may cause osteoporosis, rather than prevent it.
And monitor your own wellness vendors. Interactive Health, for example, tests every employee for anemia. This is contrary to the advice of clinical guidelines, which oppose anemia screening except for pregnant women, where evidence is mixed. Employees who then take iron supplements risk stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and serious long-term complications.
The good news? It is possible large amounts of Vitamin C do offer modest benefits with respect to common colds, and that those possible benefits outweigh the possible harms. But just large amounts, like 200-400 mg., not massive amounts — and not so large that you need pills.
3. If you have to go to GNC to obtain a supplement, or order it through the mail, it has no value and may cause harm.
As a random example we picked because we like the name, consider horny goatweed, as a treatment for erectile dysfunction (ED). Along with the name, it also has a great back story, something about Mongolian herders observing goats getting aroused after grazing on it.
It is actually proven to work, and not just on goats. It also works on rats. For the rest of us, there is zero evidence. Plus, ED is one of those conditions, like obesity or baldness, where, if something really worked, we’d know about it by now.
At least the likelihood of harm is pretty low, other than to your wallet and self-confidence.