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Aflush with wellness pills

Opinion

Aflush with wellness pills

Jane Stephens is now not so sure the vitamins and supplements she has known all her healthy life have actually been doing her any good.

Deception is always hard to swallow, especially when told your wellness pills may not be the tonic or salve you believe.

I have always been physically active – running, biking and swimming mostly at the moment. In these communities, there is often talk of this or that supplement to help with strength and endurance or to address one imbalance or another. But it seems the reliance on supplements might just be giving us expensive urine.

I grew up with a basket of vitamins and supplements on our dining table. Aussies for generations have taken vitamins and supplements by the fistful, believing they will right our health ships as they list sideways. It is cultural, habitual – and perhaps entirely unnecessary.

Complementary medicine and supplements are big business in Australia. Complementary Medicines Australia said in its pre-budget submission for 2021-22 that the industry was worth about $5 billion a year to the economy and that seven-in-10 Australians use complementary medicines, with the most popular multivitamins.

But the belief that they are doing good is based on fantasy, not fact: there is next to no evidence to support it. My general practitioner friend blew my mind recently when he mentioned that while magnesium deficiency is accepted as a cause of leg cramps, there is no evidence that taking supplements provide a clinical benefit. How could this be? I had never questioned it: there are stands at running and multi-sport events that sell it beautifully packaged, and sundry online businesses promise it will change your muscles’ world.

The federal government says that there is no evidence most of us get any benefit from taking dietary supplements and that the best way to get the right nutrients is by eating foods that naturally contain them, not by gobbling pills and powders.

Most of us know nothing about vitamins, except what we are peppered with on social media, via health bloggers or through clever packaging. Shop assistants at pharmacies will always recommend a miracle tonic to give you pep in your step.

What the evidence does show is that most of the supplements we ingest simply pass on through. Supplements may not be proven to do much, but doing research and finding out the facts may prevent you flushing money down the toilet.

 

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Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer.

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