Everywhere we turn there are ads for supplements claiming to burn calories and reduce hunger. But do these products really work?

Gillian Findlay reports in a new Frontline documentary that the answer is complex; dietary supplements can both aid and harm.

What are Supplements?

No doubt your medicine cabinet or bathroom countertop are brimming with vitamins and supplements; millions of Americans rely on them daily to address nutritional deficiencies, help prevent certain diseases, or simply boost their mood. Whatever the purpose may be, it is essential that you understand exactly what exactly is being taken and why.

Dietary supplements refer to any substances you consume that don’t fall under the category of food, such as vitamins, minerals, herbs and amino acids. Supplements come in various forms like pills, gel caps, tablets, powders, bars or beverages and no valid prescription is needed to purchase them over-the-counter; however, any supplement claiming to treat a specific disease or health condition must first be approved by the Food and Drug Administration before going on sale.

There can be several reasons for taking dietary supplements, including age, physical conditions and medical issues. If you suffer from digestive disorders that make absorbing nutrients from food difficult, or certain medical issues like diabetes that increase risk for deficiencies – all may necessitate taking additional nutrients in supplement form.

Not to be mistaken with other forms of health aids such as vitamins or other dietary supplements that promise similar health benefits, dietary supplements shouldn’t replace eating well-rounded meals for optimal wellness. While supplements may offer important advantages over the long run, nutrient-rich food remains your best bet in maintaining good health. Before beginning any dietary supplement regimen, consult with a medical provider first. They can recommend a safe dose and help you select supplements tailored specifically to your needs, while helping prevent any potential side effects or interactions between medications you are currently taking and supplements you take. Be sure to read the label and look for a “supplement facts” panel which includes serving size, list of ingredients and percent daily value (%DV). Inflated claims or words like scientific breakthrough or miracle cure could be signs that this product might be a scam.

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What are the Benefits of Supplements?

Many people take dietary supplements to enhance overall health and performance or address specific health concerns. Supplements come in pill, powder and liquid forms and contain vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, amino acids and enzymes; you can take these alone or combine multiple vitamin/mineral combinations for targeted benefits or opt for multivitamin formulations which reduce pill count while offering convenience.

Dietary supplements’ effectiveness depends on their form, the nutrients it contains and your body’s ability to absorb it. Different supplements are designed to address specific health needs like bone strength and heart health as well as brain function, weight loss and chronic health conditions like diabetes and depression.

Studies on supplements often produce mixed and inconclusive results, due to most studies employing observational designs without controls that may skew findings. While certain supplements like calcium and omega-3 fatty acids have shown to benefit health in studies conducted without controls (like probiotics), others such as these remain questionable.

As part of a healthy lifestyle, eating healthily remains your best source of nutrients. Although dietary supplements may supplement this approach to wellness, they cannot serve as a replacement to consuming an assortment of nutrient-rich, well-rounded food items on a daily basis.

If you’re investing in supplements, be sure to purchase from reliable manufacturers. The FDA has set forth good manufacturing practices which must be observed by companies to ensure product safety. Check the Supplement Facts label or manufacturer track record in order to evaluate if a particular supplement is safe.

Diet is still the primary way to achieve vitamin and mineral intake, but sometimes additional support may be needed. Supplements offer multiple advantages over their use alone: from improving bowel health and lowering stroke risks to increasing energy levels and improving mental acuity. If you have medical conditions or take medications that alter how the body processes nutrients, speaking to healthcare staff before beginning supplements could be especially helpful; they will know which are suitable and can recommend dosages tailored specifically to you and your specific requirements.

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What are the Side Effects of Supplements?

Dietary supplements come in many forms, from tablets and soft gels to capsules, powders, bars, gummies and liquids. Most dietary supplements can be purchased without needing a valid prescription from pharmacies or medical stores; however it’s wise to inform a healthcare provider beforehand as certain supplements may have side effects and/or interfere with current medicines or interact with certain diseases or conditions.

Supplements may cause issues in many ways. They may contain too much water-soluble vitamins (e.g. vitamin C), too many fat-soluble vitamins that accumulate to toxic levels (like A,D,E & K) or contain ingredients which cause allergic reactions (numbness/tingling in hands and feet, for instance) as well as ingredients which cause allergic reactions (numbness/tingling in hands/feet, etc). Iron supplements (ferrous sulfate or ferrous citrate) may lead to issues, while too much magnesium can lead to muscle spasms or diarrhea as well as muscle spasms.

Given that supplements aren’t reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration before going on sale, they haven’t been rigorously tested like prescription or OTC drugs. Some supplements can interact with each other or certain foods like grapefruit. Furthermore, certain ginseng herb and ginkgo extract supplements have also been known to decrease effectiveness of blood thinners.

Government researchers reported 23,000 emergency room visits related to adverse reactions caused by dietary supplements last year in the U.S. This figure represents nearly double what had occurred in 2008. These incidents usually involved multiple supplements taken together, with herbal products and other natural products often implicated. One of the most serious events was associated with certain drugs: sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), and sibutramine (Meridia, which has since been discontinued because of increased heart attacks and stroke risks). Some supplements contain chemicals which may be hazardous, while others could contain contaminants like lead. Furthermore, some may even contain prescription drugs like Niacin (Vitamin B3) or Erectile Dysfunction medications like Sildenafil/Tadalafil. Reporting any adverse events directly to the FDA allows them to examine your claim thoroughly.

What are the Risks of Supplements?

Supplements have become a mainstay in many diets, yet they carry with them similar risks as any substance you put in your body. They could potentially trigger allergic reactions or interfere with medications you’re currently taking; in addition, taking too much of certain nutrients could have long-term damaging effects.

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Few supplements have been scientifically shown to improve health: calcium and vitamin D reduce bone loss, folic acid lowers birth defect risks and an anti-ageing combination containing vitamins C & E, zinc copper lutein zeaxanthin reduce age related macular degeneration progression – but many others remain unknown – some even making unfounded health claims!

According to a 2015 New England Journal of Medicine study, approximately 23,000 individuals each year end up hospitalized as a result of adverse reactions due to dietary supplements. These symptoms range from rashes and diarrhea to chest pain or palpitations – often occurring among older adults.

At first glance, most adverse reactions of supplements result from taking too much at one time; therefore it’s crucial that users read labels and follow FDA-recommended dosages. But other medications may interact with or cause side effects not listed on labels – including rashes, stomach upset or increased blood pressure.

Your supplements should come from a reputable company and contain only those ingredients listed on their package. Both the FDA’s Office of Dietary Supplements and Federal Trade Commission monitor advertising of dietary supplements to detect false or misleading claims; both can take legal action against companies that fail to abide by regulations.

The National Institutes of Health offers more scientific information on individual vitamins and minerals as well as herbal supplements, but before beginning taking anything it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor first about how best to meet your nutrient needs and whether supplements might be the right choice. You may find some dietary supplements are more effective when used alongside lifestyle or medical changes such as losing weight, exercising regularly or cutting salt from your diet.