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Show 1187: Are Supplements Really a Waste of Time?

Many people take supplements. A major review last summer concluded, though, that they are a waste of time for heart disease. Is that really true?
Show 1187: Are Supplements Really a Waste of Time?
Tieraona Low Dog, MD, author of Fortify Your Life
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Are Supplements Really a Waste of Time?

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Last summer, a major review of research on supplements to improve heart health concluded that most do nothing to prevent heart attacks, strokes or premature death from cardiovascular causes (Annals of Internal Medicine, Aug. 6, 2019). In other words, they are a waste of time and money. (The possible exceptions include omega-3 fats and folate.)

This meta-analysis got an enormous amount of attention, mostly of the “told you so!” variety. The view that dietary supplements result only in expensive urine has been prevalent in medicine for some time. But should we dismiss all supplements as ineffective? Or are there situations where certain supplements could be useful?

Dr. Low Dog Presents Some Alternatives:

Dr. Tieraona Low Dog is one of the country’s leading experts on the science behind dietary supplements. What does she think about the conclusions of the recent meta-analysis? Does she agree that supplements really are a waste of time? What are the limitations on this type of research?

Is a Strict Diet a Waste of Time for Heart Health?

The meta-analysis was not limited to individual supplements. In addition, the scientists evaluated certain diets that have been recommended for improving heart health. They found that a low-salt diet could help people avoid premature death from cardiovascular causes, especially people with high blood pressure. Other widely recommended diets didn’t fare so well, however. Are low-fat diets really ineffective at preventing heart disease? What about a Mediterranean style diet with lots of vegetables, fruits and olive oil and very little meat or sugar? The investigators found that this well-studied eating plan was also a waste of time.

Call in Your Questions About Supplements:

After you listen to Dr. Low Dog, you may have observations or questions you want to share. Joe and Terry will respond. Our lines are open for your questions and comments this week. Call 888-472-3366 between 7 and 8 am EDT on Saturday, November 2, 2019. You can also reach us by email: radio@peoplespharmacy.com.

As we mentioned during the show, we have written about some of the contradictory research on fish oil to help against heart disease. Here is one article, from late last year; here is the subsequent one in which the scientists announce that fish oil has benefits. 

The Problem with Zantac:

For more than a year, you have heard about recalls of blood pressure medicines like valsartan, losartan and irbesartan. The makers of the raw materials used procedures that resulted in contamination of these drugs with nitrosamine compounds that are probable carcinogens.

Recently, a mail-order pharmacy called Valisure announced that ranitidine carries large quantities of one such compound, NDMA. This results, apparently, not from contamination but from the inherent makeup of the molecule. Listen to the founder and CEO of Valisure, David Light, describe why his pharmacy tests every drug they dispense and how the problem with ranitidine (Zantac) came to light. What might you use instead?

This Week’s Guests:

Dr. Tieraona Low Dog is a founding member of the American Board of Physician Specialties, American Board of Integrative Medicine and the Academy of Women’s Health. She was elected Chair of the US Pharmacopeia Dietary Supplements/Botanicals Expert Committee and was appointed to the Scientific Advisory Council for the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Her books include: Women’s Health in Complementary and Integrative MedicineLife Is Your Best Medicine; and Healthy at Home. Her latest is Fortify Your Life: Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals and More. Her website is drlowdog.com. (The People’s Pharmacy is pleased to offer Fortify Your Life in a paperback edition.)

David Light, a biotech entrepreneur and scientist, is the founder and CEO of Valisure, an online pharmacy that puts medications through rigorous chemical analysis before sending them to consumers. The website is www.valisure.com.

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. This podcast contains some questions for David Light that wouldn’t fit in the broadcast interview.  The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free. CDs of the broadcast may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

Buy the CD

Download the free mp3 

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
  • Khan SU et al, "Effects of nutritional supplements and dietary interventions on cardiovascular outcomes: An umbrella review and evidence map." Annals of Internal Medicine, Aug. 6, 2019. DOI: 10.7326/M19-0341
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