Every morning, Dr. Frank Pinto pops not one or two vitamins, not just a handful, but more than two dozen dietary supplements, washing each one down with a sip of water.
When afternoon rolls around, he takes 20 more: all told, nearly 50 pills, every day. Pinto, a dermatologist, and his wife, Rosemary, a family therapist, are chasing life with a vengeance under the guidance of Dr. Ana Casas, an Atlanta-based specialist in "age management."
Like millions of Americans, the Pintos, who live in Tifton, Georgia, take supplements in hopes of gaining energy, warding off disease and slowing down the aging process. The federal government says Americans spend at least $5.8 billion a year on dietary supplements.
To look at the labels, you would think that vitamins and supplements are powerful medicine. Yet for all the money spent, and growing interest from mainstream physicians, virtually no evidence exists that supplements can improve your health.
Under the 1994 Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act, nutritional supplements do not have to be tested for safety or effectiveness before going on the market. As long as the manufacturer doesn't claim that a product treats or cures a specific disease, it can advertise any health benefit whatsoever. The next time you're in a health food store, just count the bottles that promise to "strengthen your immune system."
When studies have been done -- conducted by academic researchers, not supplement-makers -- the results are less than impressive. Here are just a few examples: