In the past, some runner friends and I have talked about taking herbal, vitamin and mineral supplements for better health or improved recovery. Getting opinions or advice from our friends has been helpful on occasion, and a family member recently recommended another supplement to me. When it comes to supplements, I’m wary of taking them because I want to make sure they’re helping me and not hurting me. I have a good diet and believe that most of what I can get is best from food because it’s most easily absorbed by our bodies. However, I know that supplements can be helpful. I’ve had blood work done and as recommended by my doctors take the supplements above daily. When I’ve talked to some of my family or friends, I learned that some had little or incorrect information about supplements, so I wanted to share some of the common misconceptions about supplements.
Because herbal supplements are “natural” or plant-derived, they won’t have side effects like drugs.
Many herbal supplements can have side effects and interact with other medications. For example, ginkgo biloba, an herbal supplement used to enhance memory, can lower blood sugar levels, raise blood pressure, and increase the risk of bleeding. People with diabetes, high blood pressure, or other health conditions or taking medications to treat those health conditions should be aware that ginkgo biloba could have potentially harmful effects on their health or have interactions with other medications. A study by the FDA and CDC published in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that more than 23,000 visits to the emergency room were related to negative side effects from supplements.
Read about the possible side effects of the supplements. Don’t forget to tell your health care provider about any herbal supplements, vitamins and minerals you’re taking.
If I only buy trusted brands, I’m getting a high quality product.
In 2015, the New York Attorney General’s office tested supplements from Target, Walgreens, Walmart, and GNC and found that four of the five products they tested didn’t contain the herbs they were labeled to have (some of the products didn’t contain any of the ingredients listed) and instead contained fillers like rice and carrots. One product that was marketed as gluten- and wheat-free actually contained wheat! For people with allergies and sensitivities, that’s a huge problem. And these are from four major retailers! Buy from brands that have been tested for quality. The US Pharmacopeial Convention conducts routine testing of supplements according to standards and lists the brands that have met those quality standards. I only buy those brands so I know that what I’m buying is what I’m ingesting.
The commercial/website/bottle says it does _______, so it must be true.
An herbal supplement can claim to help with a lot of things, but because there is no federal regulation of supplements, there is no way to verify if these claims are true. The FDA states that a supplement can’t be labeled to say that it can be used to cure, treat, mitigate or prevent a specific disease or condition. If a supplement does this, it needs to be classified as a drug that must undergo testing and obtain approval from the FDA or the manufacturer has to change the claims it makes. In 2014, Plexus Worldwide that markets BioCleanse, ProBio5, and Fast Relief made several claims on their website that theses products treated certain conditions. The FDA sent an official warning letter stating that the company needed to change the wording on the site, and they responded by removing the language. Also, makers of supplements may do short-term studies on a small group that provides the results they claim, but there may be little or no information or studies of larger groups of people or the long-term effects.
I can’t have too much of a good thing.
Beta-carotene is great for eye health and immunity and has even been shown to have some protective effects against some cancers. Our bodies convert beta-carotene into vitamin A. If you’re already getting enough vitamin A from your diet, ingesting beta-carotene and vitamin A supplements could be too much for your body to handle, build up in your tissues and can cause damage. Too much calcium could raise your risk for heart attack or stroke. For any supplement, learn what dose is best for you. If you’re eating a balanced and well-rounded diet, you may be getting what you need from food, which is always the best source. Any more than what’s necessary could be harmful.
My friend has raved about this supplement’s new health benefits, so I had to try it. The latest studies have just come out raving about a new weight loss herbal supplement that melts the pounds off or the benefits of more vitamin X to prevent disease Y. My friends have different needs, bodies and health conditions, and although I respect and value their opinions, what works for them may not work for me. When one of my friends recommends a product, I research it first to make sure the information or studies aren’t conflicting or too small in scope. A non-randomized study of 100 people is not helpful! If there’s a good amount of studies and information, I also think about my needs and whether I would benefit. And, most importantly, I talk to my health care provider to make sure it’s right for me. I’ve gotten a complete blood work done regularly so I know what my deficiencies are and what supplements I should take to stay healthy.
What other myths or misconceptions have you learned about supplements?