Friday, August 18, 2017

Most dietary supplements are useless — here are the ones you should take

This article originally appeared on Business Insider
Erin Brodwin and Skye Gould
The idea of a pill that can improve your overall health is an appealing one.

Unfortunately, no matter how colorful their packaging or hopeful their messaging, most vitamins and supplements fall prey to the same problem: We simply do not need them to be healthy. Some supplements — particularly those marketed for physical enhancement — can cause real harm.
However, there are a select few supplements which research suggests may provide certain benefits — especially for people who do not get a particular nutrient in their diet, who may be pregnant, or who do a specific kind of workout. With that in mind, take a look at the supplements you should take — and the ones you should avoid.

David's Commentary

The advice here is oversimplified and misguided.  

We get vitamin D from our diets, but our bodies also create our own vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight. The effects of vitamin D supplementation remains uncertain, and as far as I know, there is no solid evidence that proves vitamin D supplementation will actually improve bone health and/or prevent osteoporosis. 

Creatine is a workout booster (which is listed in the ‘avoid’ category). Personally, I didn’t find creatine to be all that effective, plus it can make you feel bloated. Like other workout boosters, creatine can be laced with other ingredients or impurities. I found caffeine to be far superior for workouts.

The advice to avoid ginseng, tea extract, gingko biloba, and other vitamins and herbs is a powerful statement. When you look at the scientific studies, the results are a mixed bag. Sometimes benefits are seen, whereas other studies show no improvement over placebo. 

I used to work in a lab that quantified the various ingredients in supplements such as ginseng and tea extract. We found tremendous variability when you looked at different brands. Most companies will try to standardize the amount of a particular ingredient that they think is most responsible for the physiological benefits, but there are so many pharmacologically active molecules in these supplements that we still don’t know everything about each individual ingredient. This makes it tremendously difficult when you compare clinical studies because the differences in efficacy can likely be attributed to the differences in the composition and dose of the supplement itself. In other words, one brand of ginseng might work far better for you than a different brand.

Most weight loss formulations are diuretics. So basically these are just fancy caffeine pills that make you pee a lot, and yes you will lose weight but it is all water weight. There are other weight loss formulations that work through other methods, but the benefits are so minor that they aren’t worth taking in my opinion.

Overall, I think that all supplements should be avoided unless absolutely necessary or recommended by your doctor. Otherwise, we get all the nutrition we need from a proper diet. Instead of tea extract, brew an actual cup of tea and drink it. For herbal supplements, I would say that if they work for you and there are no issues, then there’s not any real reason to stop. I used to take ginseng pills for energy and they worked very well, but I found coffee to be just as effective, more enjoyable, and it just feels more natural. It’s worth noting also that herbal supplements are notorious for drug-drug interactions with many commonly prescribed medications, so make sure to discuss with your doctor to avoid adverse drug reactions.

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