Do your dietary supplements give you the illusion of health invulnerability?

A new study confirmed that taking dietary supplements increases the frequency of health-risk behaviors such as exercising less and eating poorly.

Just when you thought it was safe to enjoy a meal, a new study has revealed that taking dietary supplements might leave some individuals feeling invulnerable to health hazards, thus leading them to engage in health-risk behaviors such as exercising less and eating poorly.

Dr. Wen-Bin Chiou of National Sun Yat-Sen University in Taiwan decided to test if frequent use of dietary supplements had what he calls ironic consequences for subsequent health-related behaviors, after observing a colleague choose an unhealthy meal simply because the colleague had taken a multivitamin earlier in the day.

The study is called “Ironic Effects of Dietary Supplementation: Illusory Invulnerability Created by Taking Dietary Supplements Licenses Health-risk Behaviors.” The study is now in press for an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

According to these researchers, one-half of the population frequently uses dietary supplements. Chiou, who conducted the study along with Chao-Chin Yang of National Kaohsiung University of Hospitality and Tourism and Chin-Sheng Wan of Southern Taiwan University, said:

After reviewing the literature of the prevalence of dietary supplement use, it seemed to show that use of dietary supplements is increasing, but it does not appear to be correlated with improved public health.

The researchers conducted two different experiments using a diverse set of behavioral measures to determine whether the use of dietary supplements would license subsequent health-related behaviors. Participants in Group A were instructed to take a multivitamin and participants in the control group were assigned to take a placebo. However, all the participants actually took placebo pills. The results from the experiments and survey demonstrated that participants who believed they had taken dietary supplements felt invulnerable to health hazards, thus leading them to engage in health-risk behaviors. Specifically, participants in the perceived supplement use group expressed less desire to engage in exercise and more desire to engage in hedonic activities, preferred a buffet over an organic meal (Experiment 1), and walked less to benefit their health (Experiment 2) than the control group.

What does this all mean? Per the results of the study, Chiou said:

People who rely on dietary supplement use for health protection may pay a hidden price, the curse of licensed self-indulgence. After taking dietary supplements in the morning, individuals should diligently monitor whether illusory invulnerability is activated by restored health credentials and subsequently licenses health-risk behaviors.

To put it simply, this study by Wen-Bin Chiou suggests that people who take dietary supplements might have the misconception that they are invulnerable to health problems and might make poor decisions when it comes to their health – such as choosing fast food over a healthy meal.

Via Association for Psychological Science

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