The Two Biggest Misconceptions About Supplementation

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Issues, Supplements and Health

Secrets You Need To Know

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Nutrition MythsIn last week’s “Health Tips From The Professor” I told you the truth behind the headlines that vitamins are a waste of money. This week I’m going to be talking about the two biggest misconceptions that people have about supplementation. These are two secrets you need to know.

The Two Biggest Misconceptions About Supplementation

I won’t keep you in suspense. The answer is pretty simple. The two biggest misconceptions about supplementation that I hear over and over are:

1)     Supplementation can cure disease

2)     It doesn’t matter what you eat (or what supplements you take)

Of course, those statements don’t tell you much by themselves, so let’s delve into the subject more deeply.

Misconception #1: Supplementation can cure disease.

I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked “I have “disease X”. What supplements should I take? – as if supplements were drugs that can be taken to cure a disease.

We shouldn’t think of supplements as drugs that cure diseases. We should think of them as providing the nutrients that are the building blocks of health – or perhaps the ammunition that the body uses to fight diseases. Diseases, after all, are an abnormal state of being, and our bodies have an amazing capacity to fight those diseases.

When we have infections or cancer our body activates its immune system to fight it. When we have inflammation our body tries to put out the fire. When we have damage to our DNA – our genetic information – our body tries to repair it. The list is almost endless. Our bodies are wondrously designed!

Our immune systems require nutrients like protein, B vitamins, antioxidants, zinc and iron. The omega-3 fatty acids, anti-oxidants and polyphenols like resveratrol are anti-inflammatory. Nutrients like antioxidants and polyphenols support DNA repair.

So proper diet and supplementation are not “magic bullets” that cure diseases. They are simply the building blocks that allow the body to do what it does best.

And because no two of us are alike the nutrients that we need the most to allow our bodies to do their job efficiently may be different for each one of us.

So while there is no magic food or supplement that will cure a specific disease, a healthy diet and a holistic approach to supplementation can often work wonders.

Misconception #2: It doesn’t matter what you eat.

This is the flip side of the coin. I often come across people who have been told by the “experts” that the cause of their disease was not related to diet so they shouldn’t worry about what they eat. They are also usually told that supplementation will not do any good.

Let’s take the most extreme example – genetically caused diseases or serious degenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s for which the causes are still not fully understood.

It is generally true that these diseases were not caused by poor diet (MS may be the exception because there is some evidence that it can be caused by inadequate vitamin D during childhood). And I know many people who take the “expert’s” advice to heart and eat whatever they like and consider supplementation a waste of money.

Is that a sound approach? Let’s consider.

Any nutritionist will tell you that an inadequate diet can lead to malaise, low energy, inflammation, weakened immune system and impaired wound healing – just to name a few maladies. Even if you don’t end up with the symptoms of a nutritional deficiency, a poor diet can rob you of energy and vitality.

If you layer the consequences of a poor diet on top of the underlying disease, your chances of being able to cope with the disease and function optimally are greatly diminished.

I have come across many people with very serious diseases who are able to function at a very high level through proper diet and a holistic approach to supplementation.

Diet and supplementation did not cure their disease as they quickly discover if they stop supplementing and go back to the way they used to eat, but in many cases you would consider them to be perfectly healthy as long as they keep doing what they have been doing.

The Bottom Line

1) There is no perfect food or supplement that is capable of curing disease, but if you give your body the nutrients that it needs it often has the ability to heal itself.

2) Proper diet and supplementation can make a difference even if the disease was not caused by poor nutrition.

3) Each of us have unique nutritional needs so a holistic approach to diet and supplementation is best.

I didn’t specifically talk about weight control and exercise, but you should know from my previous “Health Tips From The Professor” that I consider them to be an essential part of any holistic health program.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (5)

  • Kathleen Sibbel

    |

    Thanks, Steve. I was first asked that ? about 30+ years ago. I was astounded someone would even think Supplementation could Cure Cancer.
    I politely told him: Supplementation won’t cure anything, Dr. Shaklee told us only the body can heal itself & to give the body a smorgasbord of Nutrients and the body would put them where they were needed most. However a quality of life could be improved by adding supplementation to the diet.
    I always appreciate having someone w/more knowledge & expertise back up my thinking. You are the greatest, Love to you & Sue

    Reply

  • Michele

    |

    I thoroughly enjoy this article! Keep em coming!

    Reply

  • Teresa Robinson

    |

    I sincerely enjoy these articles as well. Thanks, Professor, for accurate unbiased information.

    -Teresa

    Reply

  • suzanna

    |

    I’m so grateful for this articles. I have a broader understanding contribute to your expertise of health knowledge that you share on these post.

    Reply

  • Joan Lubar-Alvarez

    |

    Thank you Steve, for all of your insightful comments and actual facts we can trust.

    Reply

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Latest Article

Can Plant-based Diets Be Unhealthy?

Posted September 10, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do Plant-Based Diets Reduce Heart Disease Deaths?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

plant-based diets vegetablesPlant-based diets have become the “Golden Boys” of the diet world. They are the diets most often recommended by knowledgeable health and nutrition professionals. I’m not talking about all the “Dr. Strangeloves” who pitch weird diets in books and the internet. I am talking legitimate experts who have spent their life studying the impact of nutrition on our health.

Certainly, there is an overwhelming body of evidence supporting the claim that plant-based diets are healthy. Going on a plant-based diet can help you lower blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol and triglycerides. People who consume a plant-based diet for a lifetime weigh less and have decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

But, can a plant-based diet be unhealthy? Some people consider a plant-based diet to simply be the absence of meat and other animal foods. Is just replacing animal foods with plant-based foods enough to make a diet healthy?

Maybe not. After all, sugar and white flour are plant-based food ingredients. Fake meats of all kinds abound in our grocery stores. Some are very wholesome, but others are little more than vegetarian junk food. If you replace animal foods with plant-based sweets, desserts, and junk food, is your diet really healthier?

While the answer to that question seems obvious, very few studies have asked that question. Most studies on the benefits of plant-based diets have compared population groups that eat a strictly plant-based diet (Seventh-Day Adventists, vegans, or vegetarians) with the general public. They have not looked at variations in plant food consumption within the general public. Nor have they compared people who consume healthy and unhealthy plant foods.

This study (H Kim et al, Journal of the American Heart Association, 8:e012865, 2019) was designed to fill that void.

 

How Was The Study Done?

plant-based diets studyThis study used data collected from 12,168 middle aged adults in the ARIC (Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities) study between 1987 and 2016.

The participant’s usual intake of foods and beverages was assessed by trained interviewers using a food frequency questionnaire at the time of entry into the study and again 6 years later.

Participants were asked to indicate the frequency with which they consumed 66 foods and beverages of a defined serving size in the previous year. Visual guides were provided to help participants estimate portion sizes.

The participant’s adherence to a plant-based diet was assessed using four different well-established plant-based diet scores. For the sake of simplicity, I will include 3 of them in this review.

  • The PDI (Plant-Based Diet Index) categorizes foods as either plant foods or animal foods. A high PDI score means that the participant’s diet contains more plant foods than animal foods. A low PDI score means the participant’s diet contains more animal foods than plant foods.
  • The hPDI (healthy plant-based diet index) is based on the PDI but emphasizes “healthy” plant foods. A high hPDI score means that the participant’s diet is high in healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea) and low in animal foods.
  • The uPDI (unhealthy plant-based diet index) is based on the PDI but emphasizes “unhealthy” plant foods. A high uPDI score means that the participant’s diet is high in unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts) and low in animal foods.

For statistical analysis the scores from the various plant-based diet indices were divided into 5 equal groups. In each case, the group with the highest score consumed the most plant foods and least animal foods. The group with the lowest score consumed the least plant foods and the most animal foods.

The health outcomes measured in this study were heart disease events, heart disease deaths, and all-cause deaths. Again, for the sake of simplicity, I will only include 2 of these outcomes (heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths) in this review. The data on deaths were obtained from state death records and the National Death Index. (Yes, your personal information is available on the web even after you die.)

 

Do Plant-Based Diets Reduce Heart Disease Deaths?

plant-based diets reduce heart deathsThe participants in this study were followed for an average of 25 years.

The investigators looked at heart disease deaths over the 25 years and compared people with the highest intake of plant foods to people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods. The results were:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea) had a 19-32% lower risk of dying from heart disease than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts) had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

When the investigators looked at all-cause deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had an 11-25% lower risk of dying from any cause than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

What Else Did The Study Show?

The investigators made a couple of other interesting observations:

  • The association of the overall diet with heart disease and all-cause deaths was stronger than the association of individual food components. This underscores the importance of looking at the effect of the whole diet on health outcomes rather than the “magic” foods you hear about on Dr. Strangelove’s Health Blog.
  • Diets with the highest amount of healthy plant foods were associated with higher intake of carbohydrates, plant protein, fiber, and micronutrients, including potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, and lower intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • Diets with the highest amount of unhealthy plant foods were associated with higher intake of calories and carbohydrates and lower intake of fiber and micronutrients.

The last two observations may help explain some of the health benefits of plant-based diets.

 

Can Plant-Based Diets Be Unhealthy?

plant-based diets unhealthy cookiesNow, let’s return to the question I asked at the beginning of this article: “Can plant-based diets be unhealthy?” Although some previous studies have suggested that unhealthy plant-based diets might increase the risk of heart disease, this study did not show that.

What this study did show was that an unhealthy plant-based diet was no better for you than a diet containing lots of red meat and other animal foods.

If this were the only conclusion from this study, it might be considered a neutral result. However, this result clearly contrasts with the data from this study and many others showing that both plant-based diets in general and healthy plant-based diets reduce the risk of heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths compared to animal-based diets.

The main message from this study is clear.

  • Replacing red meat and other animal foods with plant foods can be a healthier choice, but only if they are whole, minimally processed plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea.
  • If the plant foods are refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, all bets are off. You may be just as unhealthy as if you kept eating a diet high in red meat and other animal foods.

There is one other subtle message from this study. This study did not compare vegans with the general public. Everyone in the study was the general public. Nobody in the study was consuming a 100% plant-based diet.

For example:

  • The group with the highest intake of plant foods consumed 9 servings per day of plant foods and 3.6 servings per day of animal foods.
  • The group with the lowest intake of plant foods consumed 5.4 servings per day of plant foods and 5.6 servings per day of animal foods.

In other words, you don’t need to be a vegan purist to experience health benefits from adding more whole, minimally processed plant foods to your diet.

 

The Bottom Line

A recent study analyzed the effect of consuming plant foods on heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths over a 25-year period.

When the investigators looked at heart disease deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had a 19-32% lower risk of dying from heart disease than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

When the investigators looked at all-cause deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had an 11-25% lower risk of dying from any cause than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

The main message from this study is clear.

  • Replacing red meat and other animal foods with plant foods can be a healthier choice, but only if they are whole, minimally processed plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea.
  • If the plant foods are refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, all bets are off. You may be just as unhealthy as if you kept eating a diet high in red meat and other animal foods.

A more subtle message from the study is that you don’t need to be a vegan purist to experience health benefits from adding more whole, minimally processed plant foods to your diet. The people in this study were not following some special diet. The only difference was that some of the people in this study ate more plant foods and others more animal foods.

For more details on the study, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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