“First Do No Harm”


Hippocrates, an ancient greek physician is known as the father of western medicine.  One of his best known sayings and the first rule of modern day medicine is “Primum non nocerum. (First do no harm)”

Do you know what you are putting in your body?  Is the product you are using providing the benefit you are seeking?

A recent study has shown a link to supplements (including multivitamins, energy drinks and weight loss products) and over 20,000 emergency room visits a year.  They collected data from over 60 hospitals across the U.S. over a 9-year period.  About 10% of those cases resulted in hospitalization.

Have you evaluated your supplements and why you are taking them?  Have you considered their effectiveness and if they are truly providing a benefit or are they doing more harm than good?

Energy:  Many individuals seek out supplements/products that will provide them with an energy boost.  These “energy” supplements typically contain caffeine or similar stimulant.  In moderation, caffeine may not cause any adverse health effects, but in high doses or in combination with other stimulants/drugs can increase the risk of heart damage or cardiovascular events.  Instead of covering the problem with a pill/drink, evaluate why you are low energy.  Are you lacking adequate sleep, not getting regular exercise, not eating healthy food choices?  Any or all of these behaviors may be contributing to feeling low in energy during the day.  Break the habit of relying on supplements to get you through the day – focus on improving your behaviors to increase your health.

Weight Loss/Management:  Products that claim to help with weight loss are very popular.  However, the majority of the over-the-counter pills or supplements usually rely on caffeine along with a variety of other popular “weight loss” ingredients.  The NIH has published a great fact sheet that evaluates the more common ingredients found in “weight loss” products.  It discusses the theory of how it works in the body, but more importantly the research, or lack thereof, to show it’s effectiveness.  However, there is enough known on some of them to know which ones are harmful to the body.  Taking any variety of weight loss products may result in some weight loss, but it typically comes with a risk to the body.  Typically, the person has not made appropriate lifestyle changes to support the weight loss. As a result, when the product is not longer used, the individual returns to the same behaviors they had before the product and weight is gained back – plus some.

How can you stop this cycle?  Eliminate the use of these temporary and potentially harmful products.  Focus on making small positive healthy behavior changes.  This could be going to bed earlier, eating breakfast, getting a 10-30 minute walk in a day, drinking water versus a caloric beverage.  Small simple changes, can have positive long term lasting effects.  Making these changes will not cost you any money and in fact may actually save you money in addition to improving your health.

Health: Many individuals take a multivitamin supplement to improve their health.  This may be because they want to ensure they are getting all the nutrients they need.  Or some use it as an excuse to eat unhealthy but “make it up” by taking a multivitamin.  Research has shown that those individuals who take some kind of multivitamin are usually getting adequate nutrients through their diet.  As a result, the multivitamin is not necessary.  Other research studies have found no difference in individuals who take a multivitamin versus a placebo when assessing for risks for various diseases.  Therefore, the researchers concluded that there was no need to take a multivitamin.  There is a potential for individuals to exceed normal intakes of certain vitamins and minerals which can result in adverse effects.  This usually occurs when individuals are taking a multivitamin and consuming highly fortified foods and beverages.

There are still certain populations where specific supplementation is warranted and has been shown to be beneficial, these include women who plan to become pregnant or are pregnant (supplementation of folic acid and in some cases iron may be needed), post-menopausal women (Calcium and Vitamin D), exclusively breastfeed infants (Vitamin D).

If you are taking a supplement of any kind in any form, take some time to evaluate if that supplement is actually providing you with a known health benefit.  Speak with your doctor regarding any supplementation you are using.  This is especially important if you are taking any prescribed medication.  The combination of some prescribed medication and certain supplements could be a risky mix of stimulants/drugs.  While certain specific supplementation of vitamin/mineral may be warranted for a specific medical condition or individual health, most all other supplementation for health, weight loss and energy  is unnecessary and potentially dangerous to your health.

Again Hippocrates gives us this wisdom from nearly 2500 years ago, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

When selected appropriately, food truly can be the best medicine for the body.



Andrew I. Geller, M.D., Nadine Shehab, Pharm.D., M.P.H., Nina J. Weidle, Pharm.D., Maribeth C. Lovegrove, M.P.H., Beverly J. Wolpert, Ph.D., Babgaleh B. Timbo, M.D., Dr.P.H., Robert P. Mozersky, D.O., and Daniel S. Budnitz, M.D., M.P.H. Emergency Department Visits for Adverse Events Related to Dietary Supplements. N Engl J Med 2015; 373:1531-1540 October 15, 2015 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMsa1504267

NIH. Dietary Supplements for Weight Loss: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.  April 6, 2015. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/WeightLoss-HealthProfessional/

NIH. Multivitamin/Mineral Supplements: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.  July 8, 2015. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/MVMS-HealthProfessional/



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