Is Your Behavior Reducing the Health Benefits of Your Supplements?

By Steven V. Joyal, MD

Dietary supplement use is increasing, but a careful analysis of the scientific literature suggests that, in general, the state of public health is decreasing. Also, recent reports by mainstream media on the negative results in several observational dietary supplement studies contrast with the impressive results we’ve seen in both experimental and animal studies.

So, do dietary supplements work differently in animals than humans? Well, intriguing information suggests the answer is yes, but not in the way you might think.

Study: The Influence of Supplements on Behavior

In a study1 published this year in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Psychological Science, scientists set out to investigate the powerful influence of dietary supplement use on behavior.

The investigators designed an experiment to determine how dietary supplement use influenced behavior involving actions critical to health such as food consumption and exercise. The scientists instructed one group to take a multivitamin, and the control group to take a placebo; however, in actuality, both groups received a placebo.

The scientists discovered something pretty remarkable: The group that believed they were taking a powerful multivitamin indulged in risky health behavior, including a preference to dine at a high-calorie buffet rather than consume a healthy meal, to exercise far less than the control group, and to be far more willing to engage in unhealthy activities. Interesting, isn’t it?

The Implications are Profound

In fact, the results of the study suggest that in the general population, dietary supplement use has a strong tendency to create an exaggerated sense of security and to foster behavior that can be detrimental to health.

The study authors use the term “illusory invulnerability” to describe the tendency for dietary supplement users to engage in risky behavior because of their perceived imperviousness to disability and disease.

Based upon the results of this recent study, dietary supplement users need to carefully monitor their behavior and be aware that indulging in risky activities may seriously reduce the health benefits of their supplements. Dietary supplement use is not a license to eat unhealthy food or reduce physical exercise.

Be aware of your actions. Don’t sabotage the benefits of dietary supplements on your health with unhealthy behavior!


  1. Psychol Sci. 2011 Aug;22(8):1081-6. Epub 2011 Jul 15.


hopeful geranium said...

Interesting. On the one hand, scienticians say benefits seen from supplements may just be due to healthier lifestyles. On the other hand, supplements cause riskier behaviour? Make up your mind Doc!
These results say what might happen when researchers make volunteers (i.e. risk takers) take supplements; they may have no relevance to the behaviour of elective supplement takers.
Also, there's a lot of room for confirmation bias in interpretation of things like "healthy diet", "optimal exercise", and it looks like the researchers went into this to prove a pre-existing hypothesis. It seems to rely on subjective judgements made by both researchers and subjects, and there is no mention of the effect on lipid markers, blood pressure, etc.

Richard said...

Maybe a lot more education is needed for supplement users. Maybe someone should explain what the word 'supplement' really means.

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