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The Truth About Dietary Supplements: Which (if Any) Are Worth the Money?

posted: 02/02/17
by: Katie Morton
Herbal Supplements
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Is 2017 your year to be healthy? You're not alone. Improved health is a common New Year's goal for millions. It's no secret that one of the cornerstones of excellent health is a nutritious, balanced diet.

What role do supplements play in better health and improved nutrition? Nutritional supplements vary widely--some are better than others, and some may actually be harmful.

The reality is that nutritional supplements are a controversial field. Unlike prescription medication, nutritional supplements are largely unregulated by the FDA. Supplement labels may be confusing, even misleading--promising a magical elixir for weight loss, better memory, more energy, even improved sexual health.

When it comes to nutritional supplements, more is not always better. The dictum "caveat emptor" (Latin for "Let the buyer beware") definitely applies.

The FDA's Role in Nutritional Supplements

The FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) broadly classifies supplements as vitamins, herbs, minerals, and other plant-based botanicals intended to supplement the diet. Prescription and over-the-counter medications are subject to stringent testing under the FDA, for both safety and efficacy in humans.

However, supplements are not subject to the same quality control or approval process as medications, leaving the supplement field largely unregulated by any safety watchdogs. A handful of supplements have been approved by the FDA to treat specific ailments, but the vast majority of nutritional supplements sold on the shelves are not subject to formal oversight.

How do you separate the good from the bad when it comes to nutritional supplements? As with any health issue, the best source of information is your own doctor. They will know your medical history, unique medical needs, and can recommend safe, effective supplements based on your unique health needs. That said, we've compiled a list of promising supplements to consider adding to your diet under the supervision of your health care provider.

Multivitamins

The truth is that the vast majority of us do not receive adequate vitamins and minerals in our diet alone. The right multivitamin can boost immunity, help heart health, and reduce the risk of certain cancers.

Doctors recommend choosing a multivitamin with 100% of each of the twelve essential vitamins and minerals. Check the label for A, C, D, E, and K, plus iodine, potassium, and zinc. If you're a woman who has not reached menopause, then doctors recommend a multivitamin with added iron, since many younger and middle-aged women are prone to anemia.

The best way to take a multivitamin is to split it so you take a 1/2 dose in the morning and a 1/2 dose in the evening. This way you avoid stomach upset and boost maximum absorption of the vitamins and minerals.

Vitamin C

According to medical experts, Vitamin C is one of the safest and most effective supplements. Vitamin C may protect immune function, skin health, cardiac function, and prevent eye disease. A 500-MG supplement of Vitamin C is largely well tolerated (the maximum safe upper limit is 2,000 MG per day). Doctors recommend a non-acidic, buffered form to avoid potential stomach upset.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids/Fish Oil

Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce widespread inflammation throughout the body. Reduced inflammation can reduce the risk of a heart attack, the risk of breast cancer, and relieve symptoms of arthritis. Omega-3 naturally occurs in food sources, including soybeans, flaxseed, walnuts, and certain fish. The Omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA have also been linked to improved optional brain health.

Fish oil capsules and whole flax seeds can provide Omega-3. If you're using Omega-3 fatty acid supplements, check the label to ensure that the supplements are certified free of heavy metals. Fish oil does have interactions with certain medications, such as cholesterol drugs and blood thinners, so never begin Omega-3 supplements without checking with your doctor.

Turmeric

Turmeric is an antioxidant-laden spice that may reduce inflammation, as well as improve skin, immune, and digestive health. Turmeric has shown clinical promise in boosting joint heath, reducing osteoarthritis, and lowering cholesterol.

As with fish oil, Turmeric is contradicted for patients taking certain medications, especially those on blood clotting medications, so consult with a physician before adding turmeric supplements to your diet to ensure that the supplement is safe.

Glucosamine

Glucosamine is an oral dietary supplement that has been shown to boost joint heath and decrease symptoms of osteoarthritis. Note: This natural supplement is derived from the shells of seafood, so those with a shellfish or a seafood allergy should avoid this supplement because of the risk of allergic reaction.

Vitamin D (the "Sunshine Vitamin")

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble hormone naturally manufactured by our own bodies when we're exposed to sunlight. However, many of us don't get enough Vitamin D through just sunshine, especially those of us who live in places with cold winter months.

Vitamin D helps our bodies absorb calcium, as well as keeps our immune systems and muscles working properly. Vitamin D may also reduce the risk of uterine, breast, and other reproductive cancers. An overdose of Vitamin D can be harmful to the kidneys, so ultra doses aren't advisable.

The key with any supplement is to realize that no single pill will be the magical panacea to glowing health. Before adding any new supplement to your diet, it is always recommended that you review the risks and benefits with your doctor. He or she will advise you on the best supplements for your unique body and lifestyle, as well as advise on effective dosages for optimal health.