Health Features

Understanding Supplements

Dietary supplements are a popular way to augment your food intake for a variety of health goals, but some may be more effective than others. Before trying any supplement, you should discuss it with your doctor, search for reputable studies and find out how it fits into a healthy diet of whole, natural foods. It’s also a good idea to look for labeling that shows a product has been tested by a third party like ConsumerLab.com, UL or U.S. Pharmacopeia. Here are some supplements that have been studied in recent years:

turmeric
We normally think of turmeric as a spice that flavors and colors dishes like curry, but it also contains curcumin, which has long been used to fight pain caused by inflammation. Researchers are still debating the effectiveness of turmeric supplements, however.

magnesium
This mineral is found naturally in the human body and supports immunity, normal regulation of blood sugar and muscle and nerve function. Some people take it as a supplement to improve sleep and counter problems like restless legs syndrome. Studies are not conclusive on its actual impact, but some experts say taking a low dose for better sleep may be helpful.

folate/folic acid
The B vitamin is important for women before and during pregnancy, as it helps to prevent birth abnormalities known as neural tube defects that can affect a baby’s brain and spine. If you are thinking of becoming pregnant, ask your doctor about prenatal vitamins that contain the proper dose of folate, usually 400 to 500 mg.

omega-3 fatty acids
Some studies have shown that taking omega-3 supplements may have a beneficial effect on brain health, attention and memory. Omega-3s are important for energy and cell structure, and they support a healthy immune system, heart, blood vessels and lungs.

probiotics
These ‘good’ bacteria can be found in fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso, yogurt and kombucha. They may help improve digestion, reduce skin irritation, lower cholesterol and provide immune benefits, but the jury is still out on whether taking them in supplement form is as beneficial as ingesting them in food.

joint supplements
Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements are very popular in the U.S., with some users reporting they provide relief from arthritis pain. Research isn’t conclusive on their effects, but there likely is no harm in trying them if you suffer from arthritis, some experts say.

melatonin
Your body makes the hormone melatonin naturally, and it also comes in supplement form. It may help with short-term insomnia in some people, but it also can produce side effects like headache, nausea and dizziness.

did you know?
Results of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that:

  • More than half of U.S. adults over age 20 had used a dietary supplement in the previous 30 days.
  • Dietary supplement use was highest in women aged 60 and up, and it increased with age in both men and women.
  • Multivitamin/mineral supplements were the most common types used by all age groups.

Sources: Consumer Reports, The New York Times, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, healthline.com, webmd.com

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