Nutritional supplements are not really about science

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Nutritionist and author Dr. Marion Nestle says that nutritional supplements are more about their powerful placebo effect. Photo by Shutterstock.

A recent study found that 81% of adults in the U.S. between the ages of 35 and 54 take dietary supplements, and that 76% of all Americans take some kind of vitamin or mineral. Nutritional supplements are big business — the industry is worth $40-50 billion a year, with the average American investing between $50-60 dollars a month on an array of tablets to help with anything from brain health to hair loss to anxiety to curing COVID.

Nutritionist and author Dr. Marion Nestle says that unless there's a medically identified deficiency, there’s no scientific evidence to show that supplements make “healthy people healthier.” Most people, Nestle says, need relatively few essential nutrients to be healthy, but there’s no doubt that people feel better if they take supplements. Nestle says we should be skeptical of any medical claims made by these products, but realize that psychology plays an important part in our health.  

Nestle joins Jonathan Bastian for a deep dive into the natural supplement industrial complex. Asked why so many of us take supplements with no scientific evidence that they do any good, Nestle says it’s more about their powerful placebo effect: “They're not about science, they're about belief systems.” 


“Let's Ask Marion: What You Need to Know about the Politics of Food, Nutrition, and Health” by nutritionist and author Dr. Marion Nestle. Photo by Bill Hayes.

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Producer:

Andrea Brody