You walk into the vitamin shop or vitamin aisle at your local super store and you’re instantly overwhelmed by the variety and selection. There are hundreds of health supplements to choose from, so how do you know which is right for you, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. We searched all over the web for the facts, so you know exactly what you’re in for. Medical journals and articles from trusted universities were part of the research. Everyone deserves to know what they should or shouldn’t try and that’s why we’re here.
What is a Health Supplement?
A health supplement is any over-the-counter product that claims to improve or support overall health. These range from a basic vitamin to a complex weight-loss pill. Not everyone needs every health supplement, but based on the nutritional intake of many Americans, many could use a little support.
What are the Most Common Health Supplements?
You may have reached the vitamin aisle with one health supplement in mind, but what about all the others? According to a Gallup poll, “half of Americans report regularly taking vitamins or other mineral supplements.” There are few that are commonly used, including multivitamins, calcium, antioxidants, probiotics/prebiotics and weight-loss pills.
Choosing a multivitamin can be a bit overpowering. There are tons out there, so how do you pick one over the other? Believe it or not, most are generally the same. Women’s multivitamins may have additional ingredients to support heart health or energy and men’s may have ingredients to support prostate health, but the basic vitamins and minerals in each are basically the same. Taking a multivitamin can be beneficial for rounding out your diet, but it is always best to consume vitamins in their natural state – in foods.
You have to take into consideration that not all multivitamins are considered equal. According to Harvard Health Publications, “many multivitamins contain some micronutrients in amounts in excess of those recommended in the government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In some cases, these levels may result in unsafe intakes.”
Most often considered a health supplement that promotes bone health, there’s more to calcium than a stronger skeleton. Research completed by the American Society for Nutrition says, “CaD [calcium and vitamin D] decreased the risk of total, breast, and colorectal cancers.” The recommending intake for people 19 to 50 is 1,000mg a day.
People should know that not all calcium supplements are the same and none provide 100% calcium. As listed by the Mayo Clinic, different types of calcium offer different levels.
“Calcium carbonate (40 percent elemental calcium)
Calcium citrate (21 percent elemental calcium)
Calcium gluconate (9 percent elemental calcium)
Calcium lactate (13 percent elemental calcium)”
So, if you’re taking 500mg of calcium carbonate you are only getting 200mg of calcium.
Free radicals are produced naturally in the body, but environmental and dietary factors can affect how many are produced. The body can fight off free radical damage, but when levels grow higher than the body is equipped for, antioxidants come into play. The Journal of Clinical Pathology puts it simply, “Antioxidants prevent free radical induced tissue damage by preventing the formation of radicals, scavenging them, or by promoting their decomposition.”
According to researchers, antioxidant health supplements are not necessarily healthy. Taking too much can cause oxidative stress, the same thing you’re taking the antioxidant to fight. How much is enough? That varies by person, but the best option is to get your antioxidants from foods like green tea, chocolate and blueberries. The ORAC scale measures antioxidant value. The top scores go to spices like ground cloves, dried oregano, dried rosemary and dried thyme. Acai is up there too, but you have to consume it in fruit or drink for optimal effect.
Probiotics are healthy bacteria found in the gut. Things like use of antibiotics, intake of refined sugar, chlorine in drinking water, overcooked meats and stress can all kill off probiotic bacteria. There are two types of probiotic bacteria – lactobacillus and bifidobacterium with the first being the most common. While you can take probiotics as a health supplement, it’s much better to consume it in foods. Yogurt, sauerkraut, miso soup, soft cheese, sourdough bread and sour pickles are all sources. To keep the bacteria healthy and strong, you can add foods like asparagus, oatmeal, bananas and red wine which are sources of prebiotics – the food for probiotics.
Though many health supplements are there to promote overall wellness, some are dedicated to other endeavors like weight-loss. Weight-loss pills are designed to help dieters lose more weight by suppressing appetite, boosting metabolism or focusing on carbohydrate or fat metabolism. There are both proven and unproven ingredients and it’s important to know the difference.
When choosing a health supplement for weight-loss check the official website first. If there is a complete list of ingredients and mention of clinical studies, that’s perfect. Ideally there should be links to the research, but if not there should at least be a title for the article and the name of the peer-reviewed journal where it was published. Some ingredients that have been clinically tested and proven include chromium, caffeine and green tea. Health supplements to look out for are raspberry ketones, acai and hoodia gordonii – often considered “fads” because there’s no real scientific support just hype.
Vitamin Shop vs. Super Store – “Which is the Best?”
You can walk into any major retailer and find a vitamin aisle. Are the options at a dedicated vitamin store better than those? Not in all cases. The only real difference is in selection and variety. While the super store many only offer one chromium supplement, the vitamin shop may have 10. Protein is another example. There are tons of protein powders out there today. You are bound to get a better selection at a vitamin shop, plus the employees are there to help you find the best health supplement.
Medical Conditions and Health Supplements
If you have a medical condition that’s being treated with prescription medications, you may want to think twice before taking a health supplement (or at least contact your doctor). According to an article from the FDA, “Certain dietary supplements can change absorption, metabolism, or excretion of a medication and therefore affect its potency.” The article goes on to give an example, “For example, drugs for HIV/AIDS, heart disease, depression, treatments for organ transplants, and birth control pills are less effective when taken with St. John’s Wort, an herbal supplement. Depending on the medication involved, the results can be serious.”
The Bottom Line on Health Supplements
There are far too many health supplements on the market to hit them all. While some are clinically proven to have some effect on overall health or weight-loss, others are not. The consensus is, when it comes to vitamins and nutrients, it is best to consume them in food rather than supplements. Weight-loss products, on the other hand, are available with scientific support and strong results and the ingredients aren’t always available in foods.