Health & Food

Supplements; Are You Wasting Your Money?

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If you were to visit me at work you would see that my desk/”office” is right in the middle of the supplement section of Giant Eagle. I really love being located right where I have access to customers looking for supplements. Many of you know how I feel about supplements, but if you don’t, I will tell you that I think they can potentially play a very important role in a person’s diet, but Americans know very little about the potential dangers of supplements and in my opinion we are taking way too many, and sometimes for the wrong reasons.

Nutrition Action Healthletter provided a fantastic article in their July issue, which described some popular supplements and what the data actually indicates about their reported “benefits”. Here is some of what they said;

Garlic for Cholesterol? There have been several trials testing garlic, which have let to less than impressive results. Don’t count on large doses of garlic, or garlic pills to help lower your cholesterol. Enjoy garlic in your dishes as a tasty and sodium-free spice, but there are better avenues for cholesterol-lowering (reduce your saturated fat intake, consume some flaxseeds, and plenty of fiber).

B Vitamins for Energy? Clearly our bodies need B-vitamins to metabolize our foods and to derive energy from our foods, but taking extra B-vitamins will do you no good. There is no credible evidence that taking B-vitamins (via a pill or other supplement) will give you extra energy. In fact, most of the supplements I’ve seen with > 100% DV (daily value) B-vitamins are just a waste of money, unless you eat as many calories as Michael Phelps. Even he doesn’t need 3000% DV! Solution? Eat a well-balanced diet and take a multivitamin if you wish. No need for >100% B-vitamins.

Want energy? Eat plenty of fruits, veggies, and whole grains.

B vitamins for your heart? This is yet another piece of advice I learned during my years in school for dietetics, but which hasn’t held true since. We were taught that B-vitamins could help lower homocysteine, which is a marker of heart disease. While B-vitamins do seem to lower homocysteine, unfortunately they do not seem to lower the risk for heart disease.

Gingko for memory? Results have been mixed, but studies have more overwhelmingly showed poor evidence that gingko can improve memory. My advice? Don’t waste your money! Blueberries probably provide more benefit for memory and brain health. And they taste better.

Multivitamins for immunity? If you are well-nourished and free of disease, chances are a multivitamin will not improve your immunity. Heck, even those who are undernourished seem to obtain little benefit, if any, from taking a multivitamin. Studies are still being done in this area, but for now my best advice is to eat plenty of fruits and veggies, exercise, and get plenty of sleep (7-8 hours). These are all great ways to prevent sickness.

Biotin for hair and nails? You’ve probably heard this before, “Take a biotin supplement if you want your nails and hair to grow fast and stay strong!”. Perhaps you even went out and bought some biotin at one time in your life. You may have noticed a difference, but chances are it was a placebo effect, “Wow! My hair really IS growing faster!….” Hmmm….I think not. The bottom line is that no credible studies have shown that biotin improves the look and speed of growth of nails or hair. My advice? Trim them both on a routine basis, find a good conditioning treatment to use on your hair (I use AVEDA), and a top coat for your nails (I use L.A. Girl Calcium. It’s a clear coat and it works really well).

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