Dietary supplements healthy or harmful? 

The over-dependence on dietary supplements among patients and doctors is now being questioned by a five-year-long study published in New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM)

By Author  |  Published: 17th Dec 2018  12:03 amUpdated: 16th Dec 2018  11:48 pm
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Hyderabad: Consuming dietary supplements, especially Vitamin D and Omega 3 fatty acids, have become a part of prevention and treatment for patients. On their part, the physicians too have been quite generous in making Vitamin D diagnostic tests and supplements, an intrinsic part of the patient prescription.

However, the over-dependence on dietary supplements among patients and doctors is now being questioned by a five-year-long study published in New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). The study on 28,000 patients in Europe has quite shockingly concluded that Vitamin D was no better than a placebo for lowering the risk of heart disease and cancer.

The landmark study has now put physicians, who earlier had based their prescriptions of dietary supplements on observational data, in a quandary. In the last few years, thanks to the rampant use of Vitamin D, Omega 3 fatty acids, the dietary supplements industry has thrived in the country. “For general body conditions like bone health we now know that the solution cannot be a single nutrient in the form of a supplement and it is multi-factorial. There are however many population-based studies that have indicated that a majority of Indians are deficient in Vitamin D,” says senior nutritional expert, Dr Janaki Srinath.

Recently, the US Preventive Services Task Force too had concluded that there is insufficient data to evaluate the effectiveness of supplementation of Vitamin D for the prevention of cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Senior public health professionals pointed out that in the Indian context, there are not many studies that directly link ailments to levels of Vitamin D and Omega 3 fatty acids in the body.

Many also pointed out that physicians should desist from referring data from the west and implementing them in India. “Almost all the Indians are deficient in Vitamin D including those who work on fields have a shortage, despite being exposed to the sun for a long time,” doctors said. Senior health care workers point out that the NEJM study in Europe has proved that Vitamin D can’t be prescribed as a general medicine for all. “There is a definite need to be cautious while recommending such supplements because unlike in US and Europe, supplements do not come cheap here,” said a senior health care worker.