This section is apapted from the book, Eat Smart, Play Hard, by Liz Applegate. Buy this book
Itll make you fast, lean, and strong. Do you want some? Who wouldnt? That kind of marketing is hard to resist an estimated 40 percent or more of people living in the United States take some form of dietary supplement. The problem is that with more than 29,000 supplements to choose from, separating what you need from what the manufacturers want you to think you need can be tricky.
Sorting through the Hype
Unlike the restrictions put on food products, the FDA allows supplement manufacturers to make virtually any claim other than that their product can prevent a disease. These structure-and-function claims, as theyre called, generally suggest that a supplement improves the bodys functioning. For example, a supplement might say that it boosts immune health rather than state that it prevents bacterial infection.
The FDA doesnt regulate supplements because they fall into an odd category. They are definitely not a food, but because they are available over the counter, they are not classified as drugs. The FDA does evaluate structure-and-function claims and will pursue a supplement company over consumer complaints or if adverse side effects occur. From time to time, the FDA will issue statements regarding specific supplements, especially if it considers them dangerous. Still, as a smart consumer, you should keep in mind that when a supplement claim sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Be on the lookout for words and phrases such as "breakthrough," "magical," "miracle cure," and "new discovery."
In addition, testing has shown that many supplements dont contain the active ingredients that are listed on the labels. (To see how various US brands stack up, go to www.consumerlab.com.) Many supplements claim to do amazing things for your body with virtually no science to back them up, so youll need to do your own research to make sure you get what you pay for.
Who Needs Them?
Most people who supplement dont need to, and most who dont supplement should, says hematologist Randy Eichner, M.D., at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center in Oklahoma City. Besides getting a blood test, how can you find out if you are deficient in a particular nutrient? Some things make it more likely.
- Dieting. If you restrict your daily caloric intake to fewer than 1,200, youre likely missing out on several important nutrients.
- Lactose intolerance. If you cant eat dairy products, you may fall short on calcium and riboflavin.
- Food allergies. If you cant eat particular foods such as wheat and fruit, youll have a tougher time getting some of the nutrients you need.
- Vegetarian diet. Going without meat makes it harder to get enough iron and zinc, especially if youre female. You also may come up short on vitamins B12 (not found in plant foods) and D as well as riboflavin.
- Pregnancy. Supplement with iron and folic acid or eat fortified cereals just in case, and follow your physicians advice on prenatal supplements.
In addition, some supplements may offer therapeutic benefits that you cant get from food alone. For example, you wont find glucosamine in any food. But the supplement may do wonders for your joint health without the side effects of common prescription medications.
23 Popular Supplements
The claims made for some supplements are seriously far-fetched, but a handful of others have grabbed the attention of scientists as well as athletes because studies have shown promising results. To set the record straight, heres a close look at 23 of the most popular supplements on the shelves. If you have any doubts about whether a particular supplement is right for you, ask your physician.