Life Wellbeing Consumers warned over ‘useless’ pills and potions

Consumers warned over ‘useless’ pills and potions

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Consumers have been warned to be sceptical of nutritional supplements after a popular benefit of one of the most popular pills was cast into doubt.

Last Tuesday, a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that omega-3 fish oil supplements do not appear to boost brain function in older adults.

For years, claims of a mental boost have been used to fill the coffers of the fish oil industry, which is forecast to reach a whopping $US2.3 billion by 2020, Allied Market Research recently reported.

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A consumer advocate took this as yet more proof that consumers may be tricked into paying for what amounts to expensive placebos.

“There’s fish oil, there’s glucosamine, there’s vitamins, there’s supplements – there’s a conga line of products that you can find typically very well displayed in discount pharmacies. The Sunday papers are chock-a-block with this stuff,” consumer advocate Christopher Zinn told The New Daily.

“A lot of things are well outside the bounds of science.

“At best, they harm your wallet. You have to be careful that you do not pass up tried, tested and true medicinal interventions.”

Consumers must do their research before buying supplements, an expert warned.

“Before anyone takes any supplements, they should have a fair idea of what they want to take them for, what they hope to achieve, and what the alternatives are … in terms of buying good food,” RMIT holistic and integrative medicine researcher Professor Marc Cohen told The New Daily.

Here are some of the pills and potions of which you should be wary.

Actual fish better than oil tablets

nutritional information
Dietary supplement may not do what it says on the box. Photo: Shutterstock

In an extensive clinical trial conducted over five years with more than 3000 participants, researchers from the National Eye Institute in the US found that fish oil tablets, containing omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, had neither a beneficial nor harmful effect on cognitive function in older adults (average age of 73 years).

Lead author Dr Emily Chew speculated the lack of effects of the supplements could be due to supplementation starting too late in the ageing process.

“The process of cognitive decline may occur over decades, thus a short-term supplementation given too late in the disease may not be effective,” Dr Chew told The New Daily.

Another researcher noted that the proven heart protective benefits of omega-3 were better obtained from actual fish and seafood, not tablets.

This could be because of the presence of higher concentrations of a beneficial compound (docosahexaenoic acid) in these food sources, University of Wollongong nutritional physiologist Professor Peter McLennan told The New Daily.


For years, antioxidants were thought to have a protective role against cancer and heart disease.

But a comprehensive meta-analysis published in JAMA in 2007 found that not only did antioxidant supplements have no benefit in prevention of several diseases, but it was found that vitamin A, vitamin E and beta carotene (all antioxidants) supplementation may increase mortality.

Another study found that vitamin E supplementation “significantly increased the risk of prostate cancer in healthy men”.

vitamin c

Vitamin C

Another common myth that vitamin C prevents the common cold was busted by a 2013 study that found no evidence that vitamin C supplementation reduced the incidence of colds.

Vitamin D

In 2006, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine disproved the claim that calcium with vitamin D supplementation could prevent hip fractures. It was found that it did not reduce the risk of hip fracture, and it actually led to an increased risk of kidney stones.

Some do work

It is important to note that many studies have actually proven the health benefits of other supplements, such as vitamin K supplementation preventing haemorrhagic disease in newborn babies or the use of vitamin B1 supplements to treat alcohol withdrawal.

-with Jackson Stiles


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