The skinny on health Supplements

daily dose

Supplements….do they actually work?  Are we wasting hundreds of dollars a year or more on products that are useless or are we spending good money on products that will benefit us and prevent us from getting ill…or better still keep cancer at bay?  This is a very VERY difficult question to answer.  I unfortunately will not give you the best answer but help point you in a direction that will help.

There are hundreds of supplemental products out there that claim to help with sleeplessness, eye sight, brain development (cognitive function), over immune health, and energy…just to name a few.  Some of these are mixtures of herbs such as fruit concoctions that are sold for various ailments and other products are vitamins, or single agents such as vitamin C, garlic, folic acid, etc.  If you have noticed, these supplements are getting more and more expensive as demand increases.  Multiple brands are competing against each other for the same product.  For example, in health care store and most pharmacies, you will see sever different companies selling fish or linseed oil that are high in omega 3 fatty acids.  The prices can differ significantly as some manufactures claim that they have more active ingredients, etc. 

However, as a consumer who is subjected to tons of adds in the newspaper, TV, and peer pressure (usually…or almost exclusively from people who have no expertise in health sciences) we are constantly pressured to take these.  How do we know what is real and what is pure crap and marketing.  As a rule of thumb, the vast majority of information out there is pure marketing…and if studies are referred to…they are typically very week and prove nothing.  That’s just a rule of thumb.  That does not mean that Omega 3 fatty acids are bad for you…for example.  It just might mean that the evidence that they actually lower blood cholesterol might be weak at best.  So, spend money at your own risk. 

Ok, this is not very helpful I know…so let me help you a little bit more.  There is a group out there who have looked at the most common supplements out there such as iron, different omega, vitamins, chocolate, green tea, honey, iron, glucosamine, and others and tried to help you determine how much evidence supports their use for the indications recommended in a help visualization.  Please see the following visual miscellanium health supplement website to see this tool: http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/play/snake-oil-supplements/

the authors of this tool have nicely ranked various health supplements in such a way that it is easy to visually see which products are likely to work and those that have no or weak evidence.  And it makes it easy to see how many studies have been done for each of the products in questions.  For example, folic acid for the prevention of birth defects is very strong and is in fact supported by the clinical community and ranked very high in this visualization.  However, vitamin C for colds is in the middle of the chart…and data suggests that the evidence for prevention of colds using vitamin C is quite weak….despite the huge number of studies that have been done.  So, saving money by not buying this product to prevent colds may be a good idea.  There are some products or supplements that show no benefits at all after the evidence has been examined.  These items are at the bottom of the chart and would be a waste of money.  An example of this would be garlic for the prevention of cancer….the evidence for this is severely lacking.  Another example is the use of coenzyme Q10 for diabetes…..zero benefit. 

So, this helpful visualization tool is backed up evidence.  Scientific publications over many years have been analyzed for each of these products.  Some products have multiple claims….some are thought to prevent cancer and colds, etc.  Remember, when ads on the TV claim that certain health products can prevent cancer, can prevent colds, and so on and so forth, you are wise to dismiss this altogether.  It is simply not true. 

In this chart the authors have drawn a ‘worth it line’.  This means that items above this line have evidence that support the claims of the manufacturer, while items below this line have less or no evidence.  Thus, green tea is below the line because the data on this is mixed…alot of data shows little benefits and some data shows benefits…conflicting at best.  I ask you to think about the following: which one would be more harmful if you took too much….green tea or certain vitamins like vitamin B2.  You would have to drink gallons of green tea before your body would be damaged by that beverage.  The liver and kidneys can handle large amounts of green tea before they might shut down.  However, vitamins in large amounts (are not only useless) can be damaging.  These are single compounds whereas tea has many thousands of compounds in tiny amounts.  So, remember this when you take supplements…some will hurt you if you take too much.  In fact, most of us get most of the vitamins and minerals we need in our food, and the extra we take in supplements add little benefit and potentially causes harm.  So, be careful when consuming these. 

So taken together….the health supplement fad is here to stay for a long time.  It is a huge money-making revenue stream for many companies.  The more claims the manufactures/companies can make the better the sales.  At the moment there is very little regulation that prevents companies for overstating the claims of their products.  These products are not regulated by the FDA which insists on hard evidence.  So, take these with caution.  Do not take too much of any one supplement…use moderation.  Take a look at the link I showed you for more information on the evidence or lack of it, for the item you take or wish to take.  In short…..be careful.

Thanks for reading and as usual, please leave me a comment or two.  Let me know what you think?  I want to make one more comment and that is that my blog is written by me and I DO NOT pay others to write as is very common.  Please do visit my web page for more information.  Cancer Made Simple

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