Nutritional supplements have been around a long time. They are important for young children and even the elderly, and can help “fill in the gaps” when we haven’t been eating right. But many expensive supplements aren’t necessary, and overdoses can have effects in some cases. Here’s a list of the 10 most popular supplements;
Multivitamins—since we were children, we’ve probably taken these, and many adults continue to do so. Many brands are now made for specific ages (such as older people or children), as well as for men or women.
Powder/liquid meal replacements—products like SlimFast and Ensure are popular, and useful for people whose illnesses prevent them from eating regular food. Still, physicians recommend sticking by a balanced diet instead of relying on these.
Sports supplements—consisting of proteins, creatine, or amino acids, these products purport greater strength and athletic performance. But studies don’t show much improvement in the short term (say, a week or two), but long-term use can show some slight benefits, especially in short-burst activities like lifting weights or sprinting.
Calcium—this mineral is important for bone growth and strength as well as cardiovascular function. A supplement (especially calcium citrate or lactate) will work, but low-fat alternatives include dark, leafy greens, beans and fish.
Vitamin B complex—this includes niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12. These probably are unnecessary, as studies have shown that most diets in industrial countries contain plenty of these. Dark vegetables, orange juice, grains and enriched foods contain B complex vitamins.
Vitamin C—forget what Linus Pauling said about the miracles these vitamins could produce (didn’t work for him—he’s dead). They aren’t very effective against colds, and can be found in a very wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
Glucosamine/chondroitin—taken mainly by people experiencing joint pain, they are thought to help treat arthritis. But a few recent studies haven’t shown a strong correlation between the supplement and large groups of pain sufferers, although some smaller studies have shown some benefit in patients with severe pain, and it may help prevent arthritic pain.
Homeopathy—the use of extremely small doses has been with us for centuries, and has never escaped controversy. The US National Institute of Health has found contradictory studies—some resemble a “placebo effect,” while others have found some value in taking the supplements.
Vitamin D—although it’s a fat-soluble vitamin (so it can stay in the body longer than vitamins B or C), physicians and scientists now believe that most humans don’t ingest enough vitamin D. Requiring a mix of foods and sun exposure, some experts believe as much as 1,000 international units (IU) a day, plus safe exposure to sunlight, will help prevent a number of chronic diseases.
Fish oil—the American Heart Association warns healthy people not to take fish oils (the exception might be to treat heart disease or high triglycerides). Fatty fish like salmon and tuna contain key oils like omega-3 fatty acids, which benefit the cardiovascular system; these oils in supplement form do not appear to have the same effect.
Photo: Rod Senna/Flickr
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