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Dietary supplements are defined as manufactured products that are designed to supplement the nutritional intake of humans. They may come in the form of a pill or capsule, liquid or tablet and are usually taken orally each day. They may contain synthetic versions of nutrients or extracts from natural sources. The most commonly used type of dietary supplement in the United States is the multivitamin, which it is estimated that a full half of the adult population consumes. Dr. Carolyn Dean writes about the benefits of dietary supplements in her blog, which includes supporting the structure and function of the body in people who have certain types of chronic illness. A definition of chronic disease can be viewed in the short video attachment to this post. Dr. Carolyn Dean discusses the misrepresentation of the efficacy of dietary supplements in the media and in certain academic publications. 

Who Might Require Dietary Supplements? 

In Dr. Carolyn Dean’s blog, she explores some of the facts and figures from an article titled Dietary Supplements Don’t Prevent Chronic Disease. The authors of this article outline several categories of people who may benefit from taking dietary supplements as their nutritional requirements are not met simply by their food intake. These include growing children, pregnant or lactating women, people with chronic diseases or conditions, people aged over 50, people using regular medication and people with a reduced ability to digest lactose. According to these criteria and looking at the population of America, Dr. Dean points out that this accounts for 175 percent of the population of the United States requiring some form of dietary supplement. Dr. Dean goes on to state that of course there will be some overlap between categories, but nonetheless it would appear that many more people could benefit from taking some form of supplement that the authors of Dietary Supplements Don’t Prevent Chronic Disease try to dismiss. 

In the infographic attachment, view some statistics about the prevalence of dietary supplement use taken from a study of a series of surveys in the United States. 

Observational Studies 

One of the problems that arises when looking at the efficacy of dietary supplements for a range of potential health benefits is that most of the studies available are observational only. This makes them unable to provide scientific evidence as to the effects of the supplement, as external factors such as exercise, diet, lifestyle and other variable factors are not often accounted for. Observational studies do not take place in controlled settings and are not randomized against placebo drugs. However, the results of many observational studies into dietary supplements have been promising. There is evidence to suggest that vitamin C, vitamin E and beta carotene can help to ward off conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and heart disease. Vitamin D has been shown to have myriad health benefits, including preventing depression, diabetes, cancer and the common cold but it’s only useful if a person also takes enough magnesium. Omega-3 fatty acid intake is linked with a reduced risk of stroke or other cardiovascular conditions. While these types of studies may not be conclusive enough to have supplements entered into a drug formulary prescribed by doctors and covered by insurance, they do suggest that the advantages of supplements may far outweigh the cost. 

Studying Nutrients 

Dr. Carolyn Dean advocates more research on nutrients and what they can do for us, citing her own experiences with magnesium as an example. More information about the proven health benefits of magnesium can be seen in the embedded PDF. Dr. Carolyn Dean states that many doctors dismiss supplements without fully understanding them, or having only looked at the efficacy of cheap, unnecessary and unabsorbable synthetic versions. Dr. Dean goes on to look at how the right supplements can be used to help people stay healthy when taken alongside a good diet and exercise program.