Every once in a while I visit some of the main chain health food stores in order to stay in the loop with the latest dietary supplements available on the market. One thing’s for certain, supplements are a multi-billion dollar global industry with Americans alone spending over $20 billion a year on exotic herbs, vitamins, minerals, hormones and weight loss pills amongst other things.

Antioxidant supplements are indeed among the most popular, as many people have become completely obsessed with the notion that they are “miracle” drugs capable of combating any and all diseases. In truth, antioxidants are powerful immunity boosters that can help ward off a host of chronic diseases and common ailments. Also true is that the body needs them in substantial amounts in order to function properly.

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However, unbeknownst to many, the body has its own built-in antioxidant defense system. Dietary antioxidants basically contribute to increasing the body’s reserves and they should ideally come from foods as opposed to synthetic supplements. In spite of these facts, supplement makers continue to tout the disease-fighting effects of manmade antioxidants to the many consumers who continue to blindly buy them.

Based on years of experience and accumulated knowledge in this area of nutrition, I personally think most antioxidant supplements are an utter waste of money, as none have definitively been proven to lower the risk of any disease. What has been proven is that taking in exceptionally large doses or “megadoses” of antioxidant supplements like beta-carotene, vitamin E and selenium could actually lead to adverse effects.

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Now don’t get me wrong here, all supplements aren’t inherently bad. In fact, some can potentially offer meaningful health benefits, particularly when they’re incorporated into a well-balanced diet. For instance, fish oil supplements, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, have actually been proven to reduce heart disease risk. Similarly, niacin (vitamin B3) is a highly effective over-the-counter treatment for high cholesterol.

Still, it’s important to understand that even the most effective dietary supplements are worthless if you’re consuming a diet that’s otherwise subpar. Problem is, far too frequently, people focus on single nutrients like “beta-carotene”, “omega-3 fatty acids” or “niacin”, oftentimes unknowingly neglecting the fact that many interact with each other and function collectively to exert their health-promoting effects.

For example, oily fish varieties (salmon, tuna and sardines) are exceptionally high in niacin. Plus, the omega-3 fatty acids they contain help the body to better absorb beta-carotene, which is naturally housed in vegetables like carrots, yams, spinach, kale and broccoli. Oily fish is also a rich source of selenium, which exerts numerous beneficial effects by working directly with other antioxidants present in veggies (vitamins C and E).

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So, take a second and think about that.

Here’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for why regular fish and vegetable consumption have repeatedly been shown to reduce cholesterol in ways that protect against heart disease. Obviously, the nutrients in these foods work in unison. But, it doesn’t stop there! Collectively, such foods also deliver ample doses of other important nutrients like protein, vitamin K and calcium, all of which further support good health.

At the end of the day, dietary supplements can never mimic good nutrition. Eating a diet that’s rich in essential nutrients will always serve you better than simply popping pills. Doing so is also much more gratifying to the stomach.

Preventing chronic disease and achieving optimal health requires a holistic dietary approach that’s inclusive of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other vital nutrients largely obtained from whole foods. Nevertheless, if you still choose to include supplements in a nutritionally empty diet, know that they won’t prevent disease nor will they make you any healthier. Just an unnecessary burden on the budget.

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