10 myths and truths about dietary supplements

With entire stores dedicated to selling dietary supplements, they must be good for you, right? This may not be true. Manufacturers exist who take advantage of the lack of research about most of these supplements as well as a lack of oversight by the Food and Drug Administration. Err on the side of caution, and always consult a physician before taking any supplement.
The FDA states manufacturers cannot overstate potential health benefits and must be honest about what is actually in the supplement. In the interest of profit, however, some manufacturers exaggerate the benefits and ignore the dangers of certain supplements. Some even outright lie about what is in a supplement. It is hard to tell fact from fiction, but legitimate research and studies agree on several things.
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1. MYTH: Supplements cure
A doctor may recommend supplements as a way to provide a body with a vitamin or mineral it lacks, but no supplement cures ailments such as cancer or those brought on by behaviors such as not enough exercising, lack of healthy eating habits, smoking or drug use.
2. MYTH: The FDA strictly regulates supplements
Manufacturers do not have to prove the safety and effectiveness of supplements to the FDA. Manufacturers are supposed to limit health claims on their labels and in advertisements, but some do not. The FDA often does not catch these misleading claims in a timely manner — if at all.
3. TRUTH: Omega 3s may help with rheumatoid arthritis
How well fish-oil supplements work on other osteo problems is unclear, but the results are promising for those with rheumatoid arthritis, according to research. However, be aware of fish-oil side effects such as diarrhea and other gastrointestinal issues.
4. MYTH: Supplements are safe
The safety of a supplement depends on what it is, what your health status is and what other medications you are taking. Herbal supplements especially are dangerous to take without first consulting a doctor because they can interact with many other medications, even over-the-counter ones.
5. TRUTH: Red yeast rice lowers cholesterol
This is true in some cases, but red yeast should not be taken. Why? Red yeast supplements contain monacolin K, which is identical to lovastatin, a prescription drug. This means the OTC is akin to prescription statins — with all the same side effects and potential dangers. The supplement industry is loosely regulated, so there is not yet a clear definition of how much red yeast you safely can take based on individual health, weight, age and medication interaction.
6. MYTH: Research backs up claims
There are research reports that support certain claims, but they are not the types of research on which you should rely. Yes, some vitamins and minerals have successfully passed research tests, but herbal supplements have not. Tests can be poorly constructed, have small subject participation and have differing results. In college, students often are taught that research "suggests," but never "proves." This means there may be a cause-and-effect correlation, but you can't definitively say the use of a certain supplement causes a consistent reaction in the majority of users.
7. MYTH: Pregnant women need extra vitamins and minerals
Although pregnant women may benefit from limited supplements such as folic acid and iron, it's strongly recommended that they do not self-medicate. If you are pregnant or nursing, consult with your obstetrician to determine which supplements are safe to take or recommended.
8. TRUTH: Vitamin B12 improves memory
As you age, the body absorbs less B12. Those with a B12 deficit may experience some cognitive issues. In this case, increasing B12 intake via food or a supplement may help improve memory. If you have no deficiency, a supplement will not provide a benefit.
9. MYTH: Vitamin C cures colds
Vitamin C does not cure colds. It may shorten the cold's duration by a day or two, but once that cold is in your system, no amount of vitamin C is going to save you. Too much of the vitamin may cause diarrhea and contribute to kidney stones.
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10. TRUTH: Vitamin D is good for bones
Vitamin D helps calcium keep bones healthy. That being said, it is a myth that vitamin D prevents bone loss as you get older. If you get enough calcium via dairy and other calcium-rich food, a vitamin D supplement can work in tandem with the calcium to maintain healthy bones.
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