Dietary Supplements
Promises vs. Reality

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." —Carl Sagan

Dietary supplements should be looked upon with a degree of skepticism. Unregulated or barely regulated supplement manufacturers often make dubious claims and promises. Exaggeration and deception are not uncommon, and some supplements have been found to even be dangerous.

This doesn’t mean that all supplements or supplement manufacturers are bad. Many may offer quality products. But separating the good from the bad is not easy. Proper oversight could curtail deceptive claims and protect the public from sometimes-dangerous substances. Today such oversight is lacking.

Meanwhile, how do we know what is true?

First, realize that . . .

  • Supplements of any sort will not compensate for a poor diet. Diet pills, for example, are worthless 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 your doctor, a pharmacist or a nutritionist. NSF International is a non-profit company that evaluates health products. ConsumerLab is an independent laboratory that tests and evaluates supplements. They name the names of those that pass or flunk testing.
  • 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.
  • You can also find reliable supplement information online at the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements.
  • 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 do it.

I personally take a few supplements such as:

Fish oil: (I buy mine from Vital Choice, a company that gets their fish oil from wild Alaskan sockeye salmon). You can learn more about dietary fat and the importance of Omega-3 in your diet here. 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 use unflavored whey protein when making smoothies). I also take a couple of specific vitamins recommended by my doctor.

The following are some dietary supplements commonly advertised or referred to in fitness, health or muscle magazines. Click on them to find what I know about them.

Do not be overly influenced by the word natural when considering herbals or other supplements. Some products, natural or synthetic, may not be appropriate for you. Also, some can cause serious problems if taken along with prescribed medications. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Price is not always an indicator of quality and safety either. Look for products that have earned the certification of independent labs such as ConsumerLab or NSF International.

Don’t put substances into your body unless they’ve been tested by reliable, independent sources and you are satisfied that you have an actual need for them.


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