Feature Archive

Facts About Food Fads

Supplements

By Ronald Pies
WebMD Feature

A trip to the health food store can be daunting these days. The consumer is typically confronted by shelf after shelf of vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other so-called natural substances, all touted as enhancing well-being in some way. Many of these over-the-counter products make subtle claims about their effects on mood, thinking, or energy -- without providing scientific data to back up those claims.

Because many of these preparations are classified as "food substances," the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cannot regulate them as real drugs. In effect, it's up to the FDA to prove that a food substance is unsafe, rather than the job of the manufacturer to show it is safe. What is the evidence that vitamins, minerals, or similar substances have an effect on mood disorders? And can these substances actually improve moods or even treat depression?

Food Fads Lead to Vitamin Deficiencies

Vitamin deficiencies are rare in the United States and other developed countries. In fact, vitamin excess may now be more common than vitamin deficiency. When deficiencies do occur, they're usually due to food fads that lead to medical conditions from poor absorption of nutrients in the intestine, or inborn errors in the way nutrients are handled. Alcoholism is also a major cause of vitamin deficiencies, owing to poor nutrition, impaired absorption of nutrients, and other factors. The elderly and those with mental illness or mental retardation are also at risk, usually due to poor nutrition and self-care.