Home Health Often unnecessary food supplements. Can they even be harmful?

Often unnecessary food supplements. Can they even be harmful?

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Often unnecessary food supplements.  Can they even be harmful?

In the last few years the market for food supplements‍ (especially multivitamins) and ‘fortified’ foods is growing, thanks to the consideration that these products are ‘natural’ substances, the ease of purchase, which does not require a medical prescription and increasingly it is also possible at the supermarket and, finally, the underestimation of side effects (often not reported to the ISS). The phenomenon worsened considerably during and after the Covid 19 pandemic, on the basis of the major health concerns shared by a large part of the population. According to Censis estimates, in 2020 the percentage of Italians who used food supplements and vitamins increased by 12% reaching 32 million consumers and bringing Italy to the top of the European market, with 27% of consumption. , followed by Germany (18%) and France (8%).

Luca Without, head of the laboratory of Clinical Pharmacology and prescriptive appropriateness of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research, explains: “If there is no doubt that vitamins are necessary for the correct functioning of the organism and that their deficiency must be corrected, there is no scientific evidence that documents the benefit of extra supplementation in people who do not have an actual and documented deficiency. ” The belief in the alleged health value of multivitamin and mineral supplements in promoting physical well-being, delaying aging and preventing diseases such as tumors, cardiovascular diseases and cognitive decline, has meant that these products are increasingly used by people attentive to their well-being, however, leading to the paradox of a counterproductive abuse. “In particular – continues Pasina – the excess of fat-soluble vitamins, those that are deposited in body fat, can lead to toxic effects and even increase the risk of mortality associated with some cancers”.

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Woman looks undecided at blister packs of pills, while holding a smoothie with her other hand
Experts have always warned about the uselessness and even the risks of taking supplements in the absence of documented nutritional deficiencies

Always Experts warn about the futility and even the risks of taking supplements in the absence of documented nutritional deficiencies and without the necessary information and awareness about direct (e.g. due to food and drug interactions) or indirect side effects (linked to their use as an alleged alternative to traditional drugs). A new review carried out by the United States Preventive Services Taskforce, an agency that provides the US government with recommendations to protect the health of citizens, points the finger at constant integration with multivitamins and minerals for an alleged preventive and protective purpose against cardiovascular diseases or tumors.

Analyzing more than 80 previous research, the researchers concluded that although supplements are considered allies against certain diseases in the collective imagination, there is no firm evidence that these products reduce cardiovascular risk and the likelihood of developing cancer more than they do. eat a balanced diet associated with a healthy lifestyle. The results, published in the Journal of the American Medical Associationdemonstrate the groundlessness of the trend encouraged so far by American medicine towards the integration of multivitamins for all adults.

food supplements
A balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle are still the only forms of cancer prevention recommended by the European Code against Cancer

Scholars Americans underlined the need for more careful monitoring and better training of doctors and patient information, for a conscious and functional use of food supplements, together with the imposition of more stringent rules regarding labeling, which will have to report specific and truthful information on the actual benefits and potential risks. A similar position has been taken by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (Airc), which points out that the evidence of the anticancer efficacy of supplements is still too weak to recommend their use for this purpose and excludes this practice from the European code against cancerrather, highlighting the need to maintain correct lifestyle habits encouraged by the Italian Association of Clinical Dietetics and Nutrition and the Slow Medicine Movement.

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Furthermore, a study conducted in 2006 by the Loyola University (Chicago) Breast Cancer Center showed that taking antioxidant supplements during chemotherapy can even be counterproductive, because it could increase the toxicity of chemotherapy or promote relapses. Then, according to some observational studies, the use of beta-carotene by smokers or people with occupational exposure to asbestos could increase the risk of developing lung cancer. Contrast also with regard to vitamin D, widely recommended for bone health in the general population and, at least since the 1970s, considered essential for preventing osteoporosis and fragility fractures above all. A new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, in fact, it seems to disprove this efficacy in both the elderly and healthy adults. In this study, the researchers analyzed more than 25,000 Americans over 55 for over five years, divided into two groups who were given a placebo and vitamin D3 in the most common dose on the market, respectively. The results showed that, regardless of risk factors, there was no significant reduction in fracture risk in any subgroup. The effectiveness of vitamin D for the prevention of fractures would seem relevant only in frail people, such as the elderly hospitalized in nursing homes or those who cannot benefit from sun exposure or have other risk factors.

Girl with closed eyes turning her face to the sun, in the background, out of focus, the sea.  Concept: vitamin D, supplements
The effectiveness of vitamin D supplementation on fractures would appear to be relevant only for people who cannot expose themselves to the sun

As confirmed also from the Guidelines of the National Prevention Plan 2020-2025, a healthy individual, with correct eating habits and who does not have any deficiencies, should not resort to any food supplements or supplements to stay healthy. It must also be considered that, even where it is necessary, the intake of supplements is never the same for everyone and must be evaluated by the doctor based on the health conditions and specific needs of the individual. It should also be remembered that even herbal products and natural extracts cannot be considered completely harmless.

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Roberto La Pira


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