Promises vs. Reality
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." —Carl Sagan
Dietary supplements should be looked upon with a degree of skepticism. I say this because unregulated or barely regulated dietary supplement manufacturers bombard us daily with dubious claims and promises. Exaggeration and deception are not uncommon. Some supplements have even been found to be dangerous.
At the same time, some promoters of unregulated products try to scare us of "Big Pharma." Big Pharma is regulated by laws and agencies, they remind us, created by legislators beholden to the drug companies. There is some truth in that. Yet, where would we be without the life-saving drugs the "evil" drug companies develop, test, and provide?
Frankly, I don't know enough about all of the issues involved to argue about regulation vs. deregulation. But I can imagine that eventually the dishonest and irresponsible manufacturers could be the undoing of the supplement industry, the good companies along with the bad.
Meanwhile, how do we know what is true?
First, realize that . . .
The following are products I personally use or have used and believe in . . .
- Dietary supplements of any sort will not compensate for a poor diet. Diet pills, for example, are worthless (and sometimes dangerous) without portion control eating. Taking them reminds me of someone in a sinking rowboat. Say the boater has two implements in which to bail out the water, a bucket and a thimble. He chooses the thimble.
- Do your homework. Know what you are putting into your body. Talk to people who really understand what goes into a particular dietary supplement. A few examples are your doctor, a pharmacist, or a nutritionist. NFS International is a non-profit company that evaluates health products. The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) is a trade association representing ingredient suppliers and manufacturers in the dietary supplement industry.
- Steroids and the like: Messing with your hormones is risky behavior, a minefield. Unless there is a medical reason for doing any of this — and you are under a physician’s care — don’t even think about it.
- Fish oil: Everything that I can find about supplementing with fish oil and its Omega-3 is positive. My sources range all the way from my dog’s veterinarian to my own Ophthalmologist. The list of benefits from Omega-3 is lengthy, from cardiovascular health to skin and hair. My wife and I enjoy cooked salmon, but we also take fish oil capsules. We get ours from Vital Choice, an excellent company that gets their fish oil from wild Alaskan sockeye salmon. I take it.
(You can learn more about dietary fat and the importance of Omega-3 in your diet here.)
- Daily vitamin/mineral tablets that cover the full spectrum: Scientists tell us that as we get older our bodies are not as efficient as they once were at actually using the nutrients in our food. Our absorption and assimilation of nutrients becomes less effective. So I view a "multi" as backup and insurance that everything is covered. I do not, however, mega-dose multi-vitamins and minerals. Too much of some of them can be harmful. Read the next paragraph.
The Dietary Reference Intake (or DRI) is a system of nutrition recommendations from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the US National Academy of Sciences. The DRI system is used by both the United States and Canada and is intended for the general public and health professionals.
- Glucosamine/Chondroitin is supposed to be good for aging joints. Some recent scientific testing found it beneficial and other tests saw little or no benefit. One doctor said to me, "We aren’t certain about its value yet, but we do know it is harmless, and it isn’t expensive. So why not take it?" Fortunately, I don’t have achy joints. But I can’t be sure that Glucosamine should get any credit.
In 2009, I stopped taking Glucosamine/Chontroitin since I do not have achy joints. If I did, I would take it again.
- Whey protein: It is entirely possible to get all the protein we need (and more) from the food we eat. But for convenience sake, I like a nutrient rich shake first thing in the morning. I use unflavored whey protein, mixed with some yogurt, berries, ground flax seed, and soy milk. It’s convenient, healthful and delicious.
Bodybuilders, weight lifters and other athletes in heavy training often add whey protein shakes to their regular diet to increase calories and pack on muscle.
Those are the dietary supplements I use. My doctor knows I use them. And I urge you to discuss with your doctor any supplements you are using. Also, do not be too influenced by the the word natural
when considering herbals or other supplements. Some substances, natural or synthetic, can cause problems if taken along with prescribed medications. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist. You can also find reliable supplement information online at the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements
Finally, if you are taking supplements of any kind, do not make price alone your consideration. Buy only quality products. Independent laboratory testing discovered many supplements did not contain the amount of ingredients listed on their labels. And harmful substances have also been discovered in some supplements. Look for products that have earned the certification of independent
labs such as ConsumerLab
or NFS International
The following are other dietary supplements commonly advertised or referred to in fitness, health or muscle magazines.
.Be smart and always make your doctor aware of dietary supplements that you are taking.
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