Food Supplements: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

I recently read a very revealing article by L’Express (French Weekly Magazine) on food supplements. It only confirmed some of worries and I decided it might be a good idea to impart what I have come to know.
Now, I realize I’m in for a lot of flak from interested parties, but frankly speaking I don’t care a fig. This is big business here in Japan and probably more in the US and Europe, and so what?
It certainly promises me fun when I will field some queries/complaints! LOL

Some food supplements are definitel useful with some precautions and I call them “The Good”.
Others have never been categorically proven as beneficial to humans and are just a drain on resources and probably the best business of them all. Not dangerous but nearly useless. I call them “The Bad”.
The last category includes some food supplements that are downright dangerous and you are in for some surprises. The merit the name of “The Ugly”!

And a single piece of advice before we embark on the boat of discord: Food supplements shouldn’t be ingested as a “cocktail” but one at a time, and one at a day if feasible. That is unless you want some digestive disorders!

THE GOOD

VITAMINS D

Vitamins D are vital for the health of bones (calcium regulation). A lack of it will result in rachitism in kids and osteoposis in old people.
They also influence on the immune defenses of the human body.
A regular exposure to sun will help the skin to synthethize it, even with only the hands and face exposed to the sun.
People who live a lot outdoors, eat red-fleshed fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardine, herring or marlin), dairy products or eggs do not need such a food supplement.
But vegetarians and vegans do need them.

OMEGA 3

These are contained in the fat acids called “essential acids” because vital to human life although the human organism is unable to synthesize them.
They are found in red-fleshed fish, but also in rapeseed fplants, walnuts and whole wheat.
They are extremely beneficial to the heart, and brain articulations.
200 mg a day or 1.5 g a week should be enough. Fish oil tablets usually contain 100 to 400 mg. But compared to 1~2 g provided by 100g of mackerel, herring or even tinned sardine, they just don’t compete! 2~3 g of cod oil hold the same!
Vegetarians and vegans, do eat walnuts and other grains!

IRON

A lack of iron entails fatigue and repeptitive infections.
It can spell for a high risk of anemia.
Womn with high flow periods are at a risk as well as vegetarians/vegans, pregnant women and teenge girls.
Endurance sportsmen/women run the same risk.
You need a prescription for such supplementas an excess will result into intoxication.
Now Indian vegetarians have found the solution in dry frains such as lentils and dhal.
Fish, shellfish, some dry vegetables and green vegetables contain iron.
Iron supplement are also offered against fatigue, palpitations, as well as to improve children immune defenses and intellectual performances.

GINSENG

Originally from Asia, America and Siberia, this root is proposed to prevent cancer and treat diabetes.
As for improving sport performances, it is practically insignificant unless you you inject it into the body at very high doses (doping?).
On the other hand it does seem to protect against cancer, especially ovary and pancreas as well as glycemia.

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THE BAD

CARNITINE

Carnitine is an idispensisble molecule for sportsmen and obese people.
Producers aver that their carnitine supplements would augment usage of lipids with the dual benefit of improved stamina and loss of weight.
Bad luck: neither has been proved.
Even the organism of strict vegetarians produces enough of it!
As for prevention of Alzheimer syndrome and cardiovascular problems, that’s chalatans’ study!

GUARANA

Originally from Amazonia, it is offered to combat fatigue and improve sports performance.
Not better than coffeee! Actually 200 g of guarana contains 80 g of caffeine. If you already drink a lot of tea or coffee it can be only negative on your system: insomnia, palpitations, etc.
Its benefits have never been proven!

CURCUMA

One of the spices found in curry powder mixes.
Offered to prevent Alzheimer syndrome or cancer, to treat hepapatitis C, hypercholesterolemia and to improve memory.
According to producers, it is efficient against Alzheimer syndrome and cancer tumors and others.
As far as cancer is concerend, the potential seems interesting. As for the rest, no exhaustive research has been conducted!

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THE UGLY

SPIRULINA

This blue algae found in rivers and lakes is cultivated for its proteins (70% of the dried extract).
It is rich in ironand zinc, elements often needed by vegetarians.
Also contains Vitamin B.
On the other it is poor in useful fats.
Anti-aging, slimming and anticholesterol properties are the talk of charlatans. Full stop.
Worde is that it will entail a loss of Vitamin B12 for vegetarians. Spirulina does contain some in great quantity, but it is inactive in the human system. Worse it is noxiou as it prevents the assimilation of human friendly Vitamin B12, which is present in the human system!

SELENIUM

Present in meat, fish, eggs and cereals.
It is offered to cure anti-aging and prevent cancer and heart diseases.
Selenium is indispensible in small quantities. to paly a positive role against oxydizing stress.
Actually a well balanced diet will easily rplace it!
If you ingest more than 900 micrograms (yes, you read well!), nails will break, hair will split and skin will be weakened with consequent neurological alterations.
In animals it has been proven as cancerigenous!

BETA CAROTENE

Present in oranges, carrots and green vegetables.
Offered to cure anti aging and to prepare the skin againts sun exposure.
Once absorbed it becomes a beneficient Vitamin A.
Beta carotene contained in natural food is beneficient, but ineffective or even dangerous in artificial form, especially in supplements which contain far too much.
It is particularly dangerous for smokers who have a better chance to die form lung cancer when absorbing such supplements!
Just keep to the carrots and green vegetables!

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12 thoughts on “Food Supplements: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly”

  1. go natural- newstart is the heaven approved therapy no more no less’ Nutrition,exercise,water ,sunlight, temperance,air,rest,trust in divine power. why we need supplements when we can go natural.

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  2. Owing to your eloquent expression of nonchalance (“I don’t care a fig”), I was reluctant to offer my initial comment on this post. Nevertheless, there is an overarching issue that needed to be addressed.

    Many august publications such as L’Express and The New York Times routinely uphold establishmentarian views concerning vitamins and nutritional supplements, while ignoring legitimate findings of contrasting research. It seems medicines are far more lucrative (on many levels) than are health-promoting products. I often wonder how many of us would remain well if we all adhered to the orthodoxy of the medical establishment.

    While I hold the French system of medical care in the highest regard, I contend, respectfully, that France is approximately 30 years behind the United States insofar as supplements are concerned. While the L’Express article afforded little surprise, your regurgitation thereof was somewhat unexpected. (I suppose the spaghetti western reference should have provided a clue as to the tenor of the post.) Your ostensible iconoclasm, unconventionality, and antiestablishmentarianism led me to believe that your inclinations are progressive, Robert-Gilles. While I respect your gastronomic knowledge highly, I’d invite you to pursue a more critical inquiry into vitamins and nutritional supplements.

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    1. Dear Friend (Stiill don’t know your name!)!
      Greetings!
      Good friends make for the best fights, don’t they!
      Actually I do welcome some serious talk, as all those overblown “great, sublime, blah blah” comments tend to upset me more than please me!
      I must admit I wrote this particular piece as a little vengeance, but I still stay by what I said.
      Many a pharmacy in France has completely switched to supplement and vitamin business. In Japan half of all advertisements are on supplements and vitamins. 95% of the spams (I had to ask my provider to erase 100,000 at one time last October) are for medications, supplements and vitamins. 90% of new “foodies” at Foodbuzz are spammers and half of these are trying to sell the above stuff.
      That said, “30 years behind the United States”? I tend to to believe you are guilty of the same sin, ergo my “more critical enquiry”! LOL
      What is the American (US) equivalent of Institut Pasteur, INAO, and so forth? I might be French and slightly proud of it, but it doesn’t mean I’m all for what’s French. On the other hand, the French government is certainly more progressive than the US when it comes to social insurance and protection of women!
      I ask you to accept my sincere apologies if the spaghetti Western title and my nonchalance (I suspect you have French roots as your English is just too good) have offended you, but I’m not going to repent or change!
      Incidentally, it was not an all-out criticism and I did point out the “Good” with explanations!
      Sorry, my friend, but I will stick to a balanced diet of natural foods, whatever the consequences and comments!
      Best regards,
      Robert-Gilles

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  3. I’m left wondering whether such facile treatment of a serious subject does more harm than good. For instance, your peremptory dismissal of L-carnitine completely ignores the amino acid’s proven heart-related benefits.

    One must exercise caution and humility when discussing matters in which he has little or no expertise. Frivolous commentary could yield the unintended side effect of undermining credibility in other areas.

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    1. Well, well, I knew that I would be in for some flak, and as I said, I don’t mind taking it!
      Please refer to L’Express, 11th to 17th February 2010 edition and “La Verite sur les complements alimentaires” (2010, February 11th), Odile Jacob editions, by Pr. Luc Cynober (Hospital Cochin, Paris) and Dr. Jacques Fricker (Hospital Bichat, Paris). Moreover check with Afssa, Agence francaise de securite sanitaire des Aliments, created in October 2009 by the French government.
      There does exist beneficial food supplements such as resveratrol and probiotics contained in yoghurt by such brands as Yakult and Actimel of Danone. I was just making a point on the most common food supplements.
      I’m afraid to say that carnitine is judged as harmless but useless in France. Now, if Americans do not agree, that is their opinion and they are entitled to it.
      Cheers and all that,
      Robert-Gilles

      Incidentally, I still do not know your name!

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  4. Great post, thanks for the info – supplements have always been a big mystery to me though I still prefer to get my vitamins from real foods rather than tablets but this is really useful to see what the ‘good’ ones are and where to find them.

    Cheers

    Hungry Jenny x

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  5. This was a great read – so informative. Thank you so much for putting it together! Luckily, I’e never used any of the bad or ugly – but was surprised to see beta carotene on there. At first I was worried because I eat carrots like they’re going out of style! lol

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