Boosting your Health with Supplements
Avoid potential risks when using natural remedies
Many Americans looking for a health boost are seeking out supplements. Whether they're herbal remedies or vitamins, supplements offer a mixed bag. In some cases they have proven benefits — in other instances the science behind them is murky at best. In the worst cases they can even be dangerous, putting people at risk for health complications, according to the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).
Some 6,300 people report that they are harmed by supplements each year, according to Consumer Reports.
What does this mean for you? It means you need to be a careful consumer and do your homework to reap the benefits offered by supplements and avoid potential harms. Below are some tips and tricks to make sure that pill you take each morning isn't poisoning your efforts to get healthy.
Numerous supplement options
A 2007 government survey showed that nearly 20 percent of adults in the United States reported using "natural products," in the past year, according to NCCAM. Following are some of the most common:
- Fish oil/omega 3/DHA supplements, which NCCAM officials say many people take in an effort to prevent heart disease and to treat other ailments. According to NCCAM, while these supplements are safe for most people, scientific evidence has yet to prove these supplements meet that goal.
- Glucosamine, a supplement commonly used to treat the symptoms of osteoarthritis. According to NCCAM, researchers have found that people taking the supplement during a clinical trial experienced statistically significant pain relief.
- Echinacea, which is used as a remedy for the common cold. However, researchers have found that the supplement may not live up to its promise when it comes to helping you get over the sniffles any faster than other treatments, according to the NCCAM.
- Flaxseed, a commonly used supplement that some people claim not only works as a laxative, but may ease the symptoms of arthritis and tackle everything from hot flashes and breast pain to high cholesterol and certain cancers. So far researchers have shown that flaxseed is a laxative, and may help reduce cholesterol in some populations, particularly women. The jury is still out on whether it is effective in other instances, according to NCCAM.
In addition to herbal supplements, Americans are also popping vitamins regularly, from multivitamins to single pills in an alphabet soup of A, B, C, D and E, according to Consumer Reports.
So are all these supplements doing any good?
When it comes to vitamins, Consumer Reports says many Americans are taking more than they need, and that many people get enough nutrients from their food without the pills.
The best way to find out if you need a supplement is to talk to your doctor, says NCCAM. It's also wise to look at the government resources on supplements that are now available. For example, the NCCAM website allows you to look up specific supplements and see all the research on the safety and effectiveness of various products.