Dietary supplements: Mostly a waste of money and an additional health risk

Dietary supplements: Mostly a waste of money and an additional health risk

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Health experts warn: Dietary supplements can be dangerous

Only recently, the ARD political magazine “Report Mainz” reported that reporters had been able to get permission to sell a dangerous food supplement. In addition, it was pointed out that pharmacists properly pay with such preparations. Doctors now emphasize that many of these remedies are often wasted. They can also pose a health risk.

More and more Germans are turning to dietary supplements because they think that they will keep them healthy and fit and that they can grow old without serious illnesses if possible. But high-profile studies suggest that dietary supplements are of no use for maintaining health and preventing diseases.

For the prevention of diseases without benefit

As the German Society for Gastroenterology, Digestive and Metabolic Diseases (DGVS) and the German Society for General and Visceral Surgery (DGAV) write in a joint communication, a total of 225 million food supplement packs were sold in 2018 in Germany. Accordingly, sales rose from 1.31 billion euros in 2017 to 1.44 billion euros in the previous year. This trend is in stark contrast to current scientific knowledge.

Because studies suggest that dietary supplements are of no use for primary prevention, i.e. maintaining health and preventing diseases. Not only that: “Long-term use of these preparations can even involve risks. The same applies to over-the-counter medications such as acetylsalicylic acid (ASA). This should also not be taken without consulting the doctor for the purpose of disease prevention, ”warn the experts.

No positive impact on disease prevention

One of the most comprehensive studies on the benefits of dietary supplements was published in 2017 in the specialist magazine "Advances in Nutrition". Here, scientists evaluated 49 different studies with a total of 290,000 participants and found that taking vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin K, magnesium, selenium, or zinc supplements, as well as omega 3 fatty acid capsules, did not has a positive impact on avoiding diseases such as cancer or cardiovascular disease and does not prolong life.

Various other high-ranking studies that have recently been published come to similar results, such as an evaluation of the US cohort study NHANES from this year published in the specialist journal "Annals of Internal Medicine". Here, the researchers found only positive effects for vitamins and minerals from natural sources, but not if they were taken in the form of dietary supplements.

"Our results support the opinion that the use of dietary supplements contributes to an increased total intake of nutrients, but there are beneficial connections to nutrients from foods that are not seen in dietary supplements," said study author Dr. Fang Fang Zhang from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts.

Cancer risk is increased

"Some studies show very slight positive effects for dietary supplement preparations, but you have to weigh them against the risks they also have," says Professor Dr med. Jürgen Schölmerich, specialist in gastroenterology and former medical director and chairman of the board of the University Hospital Frankfurt am Main.

Some studies provide indications of undesirable consequences, especially if preparations are taken in high doses: Vitamin A preparations in high doses (more than 25,000 IU per day), for example, increase the risk of cancer; Beta carotene supplements increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers. "The advertising statement that everyone needs an extra dose of vitamins or minerals to maintain performance and health is simply wrong," explains Schölmerich.

Only for a few groups of people, for example pregnant women or vegans, are certain food supplements actually recommended. Consumers should discuss with their doctor whether and if so, which preparations they need.

Taking medication can also be harmful

But not only dietary supplements can not deliver what many consumers hope for in terms of maintaining health and preventing diseases. This also applies to some medicines, such as acetylsalicylic acid tablets. "Because of its blood-thinning effect, aspirin is used successfully, for example, after a heart attack or stroke to prevent another event," said Schölmerich. In these cases, i.e. in so-called secondary prevention, the drug is useful and effective. However, the data are sobering for the use of acetylsalicylic acid in primary prevention, according to the expert.

Several large studies have been published in the past year, which show that taking acetylsalicylic acid as a precaution cannot reduce the likelihood of developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease or cancer and has no overall impact on mortality. Rather, those study participants who regularly took acetylsalicylic acid supplements showed an increased rate of bleeding, mostly in the gastrointestinal tract.

"Consumers should be aware that taking medically not indicated, long-term use of different preparations for primary prevention without consultation with the doctor can possibly do more harm than good," says Schölmerich. "If you want to keep yourself healthy and fit, you should rather pay attention to a balanced diet and sufficient exercise and take the most important preventive examinations."

Colon cancer screening is particularly important here. No other pension option is as efficient as this. Because during a colonoscopy, the doctor recognizes possible cancer precursors or polyps from which a malignant tumor can develop and removes them before the cancer develops. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Visceral Medicine website - the joint congress of the DGVS and the DGAV: Healthy and fit through dietary supplements and over-the-counter medications? Often a waste of money, sometimes risky, (accessed: September 14, 2019),
  • Advances in Nutrition: Dietary Supplements and Risk of Cause-Specific Death, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Primary Prevention Trials, (accessed: September 14, 2019), Advances in Nutrition
  • Annals of Internal Medicine: Association Among Dietary Supplement Use, Nutrient Intake, and Mortality Among U.S. Adults: A Cohort Study, (accessed: September 14, 2019), Annals of Internal Medicine

Video: Vitamins, supplements a waste of money for consumers? (November 2022).