Health Supplements: Are They Worth The Hype?
Can health supplements give your body the nutrition boost it needs to achieve your weight loss goals?
There are a lot of supplements, but which do you really need to take? Image via Shutterstock
Nowadays, a great majority of adults, be it in the US or anywhere in the world, take one or more supplements to improve their health. If you look at pharmacies, health stores, and supermarkets, you'd find supplements for just about any health issue there is. This begs the question, are health supplement really as effective as its manufacturers claim?
What are Health Supplements?
A health supplement pertains to any product that supplies the body with various nutrients to satisfy the daily requirements and keep you healthy, or to lower your risk for certain diseases. These nutrients are either derived from natural sources such as food, created synthetically in the laboratory, or a combination of both.
Health supplements come in various forms, with the most common being pills, tablets, capsules, powders, shakes, and nutritional bars. Multivitamins are the most commonly used health supplement (source).
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Reasons for Taking Health Supplements
Health supplements intend to provide the body with nutrients not adequately obtained from diet. The US National Institutes of Health claim that these supplements may hold value especially for those who fail to consume a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet on a regular basis. And although multivitamins are the most popular health supplement, there are also other supplements meant to address more specific health concerns. Among them are those which support the health of the brain, eyes, skin, muscle, liver, joints, and so on...
Key Ingredients to Look for in Health Supplements
Health supplements comes in a variety of forms and each one is meant to address a specific health concern. In general, however, the following are deemed to be the most important:
- Vitamins - An organic compound required by the body in specific amounts. There are 13 vitamins in all, four of which are fat-soluble (A, D, E, K) while the remaining are water-soluble (B-complex and C). Each one serves its own function which includes boosting immunity, repairing damaged tissues, increasing energy levels, and many more.
- Minerals - Like vitamins, these chemical elements are needed for life. The most important ones include calcium, iodine, iron, magnesium, and zinc.
- Fiber - Increased intake of fiber has been shown to promote overall health by lowering blood sugar and cholesterol levels. It also helps regulate bowel movements and may help in achieving healthy weight.
- Fatty Acids - These include omega-3, 6, and 9, with omega-3 being the most important (source). Omega-6 can easily be obtained from diet (source), while omega-9 is produced by the body (source). Among the many functions of these fatty acids include cell membrane formation, hormone production, and regulation of inflammatory processes. Fish oil is the most popular fatty acid supplement.
- Proteins and Amino Acids - These are often supplied as ready-to-drink products or as a powder that can be mixed with water, juice, or shakes. They are mostly recommended for individuals who engage in strenuous physical activities on a regular basis, or anyone who wish to lose weight and build muscles. Whey protein is the most popular protein/amino acid supplement.
Do Health Supplements Work?
Several studies have shown that health supplements are beneficial for overall health, as they work pretty well in providing your body with the nutrients you don't adequately get from diet. However, they can't take the place of a healthy, well-balanced diet.
When it comes to specific health concerns, they prove to be of some help too. For instance, calcium and vitamin D supplements may help make the bones strong and prevent osteoporosis, folic acid in pregnant women may help prevent birth defects in their unborn baby, omega supplements may help reduce the risk for cardiovascular diseases... and the list goes on (source). It's just a matter of choosing the right supplement for you, and there's your healthcare specialist to help you with that.
Are Health Supplements Safe?
Manufacturers aren't required to conduct studies on the safety and effectiveness of their product. Also, the FDA doesn't implement strict regulations either, as they consider health supplements are food instead of medications.
Some health supplements are safe and beneficial, while others can be potentially harmful. So as always, the key is to tell your physician if you're planning to use supplements of any kind.
How to Choose the Best Health Supplements?
A good health supplement, first and foremost, must have a Supplement Facts panel that lists the active ingredients and their respective amounts in the formula. Other added ingredients like binders, fillers, and flavorings (if any) must also be listed.
With regards to the directions for use, you may follow the manufacturer's instructions or better yet, consult your physician to find the most appropriate dosage and frequency for you.
The Bottom Line
Health supplements can be helpful in addressing various health concerns, but we still strongly advise that you don't take one without consulting a healthcare professional. Not all supplements are safe, as safety depends on several factors such as content, mechanism of action, drug interactions, and dosage.
When planning to take a health supplement, always ask yourself if you really need it and weigh the benefits vs. potential risks. If you can't answer this yourself, there's always your physician to help you.
**This is a subjective assessment based on the strength of the available informations and our estimation of efficacy.
*Result may vary. The information contained in this website is provided for general informational purpose. No medical claims are implied in this content, and the information herein is not intended to be used for self diagnosis or self treatment of any condition.
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