Taking certain types of health supplements can have a range of potential benefits for overall health and wellbeing. From vitamins and minerals to herbal supplements, there are many options available to help improve health and control certain conditions. However, it is important to understand the risks associated with taking supplements, as well as the potential benefits. Folic acid is one example of a supplement that can reduce the risk of certain birth defects.
Additionally, evidence suggests that some supplements may improve health in different ways. Multivitamins, calcium, and vitamins B, C and D are some of the most popular nutritional supplements. Calcium is essential for bone health, while vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Vitamins C and E are powerful antioxidant molecules that can prevent cell damage and help maintain health. Gold suggests that supplements that test positive generally become a regulated drug, meaning they are better studied, the dosage is better understood, and the risks are clearly identified. For this reason, it is often recommended to use medications rather than over-the-counter supplements to help achieve a health goal.
Gold has seen first-hand the harmful effects of bodybuilding supplements, which often contain creatine - an amino acid that can build muscle but can also damage the kidneys - as well as high levels of caffeine which can lead to muscle breakdown, hyperactivity and agitation. The good news is that people often don't share the supplements they're taking with their healthcare provider. Dietary supplements can be useful in some situations such as calcium and vitamin D for bone health or iron for iron deficiency anemia. However, if you're already healthy, most supplements may not do much to improve your health or prevent death. Many of the health claims that companies include on their supplement labels can extrapolate the results observed in animals to humans or place too much emphasis on what are still preliminary findings. It's especially important to review your supplements with your healthcare provider if you take more than one supplement or if you take any prescription or over-the-counter medications.
These types of supplements may be particularly susceptible to containing undisclosed ingredients. Consumers can search for information on specific vitamins, minerals and botanicals on trusted websites such as those run by Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the National Institutes of Health. When discussing supplements with your healthcare provider, they can discuss the possible benefits and side effects, and evaluate if the supplement is safe for you. While you don't need a prescription for most supplements, that doesn't mean they can't significantly affect your health. For example, calcium and vitamin D are probably the only supplement recommended by healthcare providers due to its low risk profile. It's important to remember that anything strong enough to produce a positive effect such as lowering cholesterol or improving mood is also strong enough to carry potential health risks.
By knowing the supplements you're taking, your healthcare provider can make sure they're right for you. Herbal supplements, sometimes called botanicals, are plant-based supplements that are touted as beneficial to health. These include glucosamine (for joint pain) and herbal supplements such as echinacea (immune health) and flaxseed oil (digestion). While supplements aren't regulated in the same way as medications, they have active ingredients that can affect the body and health.