top of page

Eating our good intentions

While mulling everything my doctor wants me to do – exercise, eat right, get enough vitamins/ minerals, etc. – I decided to make a deal with myself.

I definitely want to do something to stay healthy, so among those options, I started with taking vitamins ... because, well, easy-peasy, right? I do have to buy them (negative), but then I just pop a tablet daily (positive) and, voila!, I'm working at being healthy. Job done.

Doing ANYTHING seems like a great choice, especially when doing the HARD THING seems too daunting.

That moment of self-revelation reminded me of research my friend Peter Ubel, M.D., talks about in this 13-minute American Medical Association interview, “Why too many vitamins seems about right.” (You may remember Peter, who studies the psychology behind the sometimes-quirky health care decisions we make, from “It's Hard Being You,” in the section on human resilience.)

An overview of the podcast notes:

“U.S. adults spend more than $10 billion per year on vitamins and dietary supplements, believing against most evidence that fortified gummy bears and water infused with vitamins will improve their health and well-being.

“Vitamins are necessary for life ...but as the recent US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendation statement and updated evidence report and systematic review show, there is little evidence that supplemental vitamins and minerals prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease, or mortality.

“No vitamins were found to reduce death from cancer or cardiovascular disease, with multivitamins earning an I-statement from the USPSTF (meaning that evidence remains insufficient to recommend for or against taking such supplements).

“... A total of 84 studies were reviewed, testing vitamins in almost 700 000 people, and the rosiest conclusion is that more evidence is needed. In the face of such underwhelming benefits, what explains the number of people who regularly consume these unnecessary supplements?”

Peter cites “action bias” among the explanations. It makes us want to do something – even when the science/evidence behind that action is sketchy. Plus, of all the things doctors want us to do, including losing weight and exercising more, taking vitamins is the easiest. (Guilty!)

Most Americans could get all the nutrients they need from their food, if they worked at it. I'm applying my action bias to doing that right now.

If the effort doesn't kill me, it's surely food for thought.


Note: No sign-in is required to comment on the blog. I would love to hear from you, so please include your name in the text of your comment.

bottom of page