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31: Do Those Supplements Actually Work?

Feb 04, 2020

That handful of vitamins you’re taking in the morning may just be making your urine expensive. Thunder Jalili is back and he’s explaining why out of 90,000 supplements on the market today, he can only suggest two that actually work.

Episode Transcript

This content was originally created for audio. Some elements such as tone, sound effects, and music can be hard to translate to text. As such, the following is a summary of the episode and has been edited for clarity. For the full experience, we encourage you to subscribe and listen— it's more fun that way.

There Are 90,000 Supplements on Store Shelves, Which Work?

vitamin and supplement industry is big business in the United States. According to the Journal of nutrition there are around 90,000 different dietary supplement products on U.S. store shelves, making up a $30 billion dollar industry.

These supplements make vague, yet bold health claims, including improving ‘heart health,' ‘promoting muscle growth,' and ‘boost vitality.' Men seeking out these benefits in a pill have grown throughout the years, with around 73% of U.S. men taking a supplement daily.

But do these supplements actually work or do they just make your urine quite expensive?

We asked our nutrition specialist Dr. Thunder Jalili. He works with the University of Utah Department of Nutrition and Integrative Physiology and he has the answers to our supplement questions.

Research On Supplements is Unclear at Best

So what supplements does Dr. Jalili take? Vitamin D, fish oil, and a baby aspirin. But he admits that he does so even though the science is not clear that these supplements are actually effective.

According to Dr. Jalili, if you look at the research, a majority of supplements have very little effect on your health and just pass through the body. Considering the cost of most of these pills, they're mostly "making your pee expensive."

When it comes to supplement and vitamin research, there are very few reliable, repeatable, and conclusive studies available. In fact, a lot of the findings between studies can be contradictory.

For example, it's a fallacy to assume getting 10,000 percent of your daily suggested dose of Vitamin C will provide any extra benefit than just getting the recommended amount. There is no clear scientific evidence to correlate a super high dose of vitamin C with a reduction of cold symptoms or prevention of illness.

Luckily a high dose of vitamin C is not likely to cause any physical harm. So there's no immediate need to stop taking it, but it's probably providing little health benefit.

It's Best to Get Your Micronutrients from Food

"It's really a crutch to help support a poor diet," says Dr. Jalili in regards to vitamins.

He discourages his patients from relying on supplements to make them healthy. It's important to focus on getting the macronutrients and micronutrients your body needs from a healthy diet. Adopting a healthy diet is the most effective, tasty, and safer method of getting vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients into your body.

In fact, Dr. Jalili tells people not to take multivitamin. While a daily multivitamin may seem like a great way to help ensure you're getting enough minerals every day, they can not only be ineffective, but potentially dangerous.

Some studies assert that multivitamins provide no benefit in the minerals it provides. Other studies have shown a potential link to the regular consumption of multivitamins and an increase in developing cancer. Interestingly, consuming the same dosage of these minerals from food does not show the same cancer risk.

There is No Such Thing as a Magic Pill

Out of the 90,000 supplements available, Dr. Jalili suggests there are two that may be worth taking:

  • Fish oil - Early research into fish oil supplements has shown it may help reduce a person's risk of primary cardiovascular events.


  • Vitamin D - Low levels of vitamin D can lead to a lack of energy and heart disease. It's common for vitamin D levels to drop in people as they age, do older patients may need to take a supplement.


For both of these supplements, recent research has shown that these pills provide only a minimal benefit. Neither present any serious adverse effects. With the low risk and small potential benefit in mind, Dr. Jalili takes both supplements.

It's important to keep in mind that no supplement will completely fix the health effects of a bad diet. The one good rule is: "Eat healthy foods that are good for you."

"Eating unprocessed, plant based foods is good for you. We can all agree on that," says Dr. Jalili, "It's everything beyond that we have to be open minded and objective about. And be prepared to change our mind if the facts change."

Workout Supplements Are Best for Elite Athletes

When it comes to performance enhancing workout supplements, Dr. Jalili admits that there are some potential benefits to taking some of the compounds, but they are really only effective for elite athletes.

For example, creatine can be useful in building muscle. It can provide a small increase in performance when used in part of a systematic strength training routine. But the change is relatively minimal and the supplement itself is quite expensive.

Dr. Jalili suggests asking yourself what your goals are before spending the money on creating. Are you an elite athlete that needs gains for a specific athletic performance? Or are you a regular guy trying to get healthy? Do those small expensive differences a supplement may make really matter to you and your health goals? Is it beyond important for you to be able to lift 10 more pounds within a month?

If you do choose to take creatine, be sure to increase your hydration. Creatine has the potential to cause issues with kidneys and increase the chance of developing kidney stones if you drink enough water

Your Doctor is Not the Best Resource for Nutrition

If you have questions related to anything about your nutrition - supplementation included - your doctor probably isn't the best to contact. Most doctors in the U.S. receive minimal nutritional training in medical school. Your doctor will only have knowledge of nutrition if they are self-motivated and self-educated.

For questions about diet, food, and supplements, it's best to go to a certified nutritionist.

Otherwise, Dr. Jalili suggests a few good online sources about supplements:

Remember not to look for hope in a pill. Your diet, sleep and exercise will have more of an impact than any sort of supplementation.

23andMe May Have Used Your DNA to Develop a New Medication

Did your genetic data help develop a new treatment for psoriasis? The direct to consumer genetic testing company 23andMe recently announced that their genetic library had been sold to and used by a South American company to develop a new drug that may help a lot of people suffering from psoriasis.

It's exciting news, but individuals whose genetic information was used were not compensated, and many didn't even realize their DNA would be used like this.

The Who Cares team discusses what implications this new breakthrough means for research, big data, and ultimately patients that choose to have their DNA tested.

Housekeeping - Who Cares About Their DNA Giveaway

Last week we posted a video of Troy and Scot doing a pushup challenge in the studio with Dr. Ernie Rimer. The challenge was inspired by recent research that suggests men who can perform 40 pushups have a 96% less chance of suffering from a cardiac event.

Check out the video on our Facebook and take a listen to the episode to learn how to improve your pushup form and how you can work up to 40 pushups.

Second, Troy has been recovering from a significant running injury he had last year. He's been working hard on getting back to normal. After months of rehabilitation and perseverance, he's running long distances again. In fact, Troy recently ran a race with a good enough time he was able to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Just Going to Leave This Here

On this episode's Just Going to Leave This Here, learn how Scot accidentally got dog poop in his nose. Troy has serious questions for the designers of men's urinals.

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