Study reveals the most dangerous supplements that can harm your health, and which ones really work

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Vitamins, calcium, and omega-3s are among the most consumed food supplements by Americans. 70% frequently use these types of products, which also come in the form of probiotics, plant extracts, such as bran, ginseng and brewer’s yeast, as well as in energy bars and preparations to replace certain foods.

Most use these products with the main objective of improving their general health (70.9%), but also to have more energy (35%), improve the functioning of bones and muscles (34%), treat diseases such as osteoporosis and gastrointestinal discomfort (28%) , as well as reduce weight, among other reasons.

In addition, a large part uses them without sufficient health justification, without beneficial results in many cases and even with a health risk in some cases. Indeed, currently, studies that analyze the safety of this type of supplements are rare and most provide little or no information that clearly demonstrates that they have healthy properties and that they are effective and safe.

According to a recently released report, currently predicts strong growth in the coming years due to the boom in sport, so-called “ personalized nutrition ” and an aging population, especially among millennials, women and over 60s.

The study also identified the potentially positive and negative impact of these substances on the basis of scientific evidence from numerous national and international reports and conducted surveys on 2630 adults to know the frequency of use of this type of product and whether they have perceived beneficial or undesirable effects.

Young women: more vitamins and minerals

Of all the supplements available on the market, the most consumed (63.4%) are those that provide vitamins, minerals and oils rich in omega-3s (63%).

Specifically, about 4 in 10 women (39.4%), especially women between 26 and 35 years old, with a university education, who engage in physical activity and plan to be at an adequate weight, consume vitamins and complexes. , especially those of vitamin D and C, which are generally prescribed by health professionals other than dietitians.

Concerning minerals, the contribution of magnesium (13%) and calcium (12%) stand out, especially among people aged 26 to 35; and Omega 3 from plant sources, such as evening primrose, linseed or walnut oil, which consume 21%, especially between 18 and 35 years old.

The multivitamin with minerals is the most consumed complex, especially 18% of the population, who do so on a monthly, weekly or daily basis. A similar proportion of those surveyed also take probiotics (27.3%), especially women and the age group between 26 and 45 years old, and 28.6%, also predominantly women, consume an over-the-counter supplement with a plant extract or herbal medicine, such as pollen. , royal jelly and fiber, often purchased from herbalists.

Gain energy (men) and lose weight (women)

Men eat more energy bars and women are more prepared to reduce their height. This is according to the report which shows that 2 in 10 people (19.9%), especially men between 18 and 45 years old with a feeling of good health, take sports products, such as energy bars (15%), protein preparations, serums and shakes (14%), specialty drinks (13%) and hydration gels (9%), usually self-administered (without a prescription) and usually purchased online.

It also indicates that 13.8% took specific products for weight loss in the last year, among which stand out the preparations which replace some meals of the day (11%) or all (6%). The most frequent consumers of this type of product, which are in most cases prescribed by dietitians-nutritionists, are women, between 18 and 45 years old, who consider their weight little or not adequate.

The report also shows that 30.2% of those surveyed admitted to having taken products for special medical purposes in order to treat disease or the effects of treatment, being more common in women, in the age groups of 56 years and over and in people with a university education. Shakes to strengthen the normal diet in case of malnutrition or risk of malnutrition (9%) and preparations to treat metabolic diseases, such as phenylketonuria (7%), are the most consumed.

Half believe they get results

Half of those questioned consider that they obtained the expected results from the use of these products, albeit in a light or transient manner. Supplements and herbal products are those that, in general, respondents perceive to be safer (60%), a percentage which decreases with regard to sports products (53%) and products to reduce weight (45%), among others. The most common side effect seen after consumption is gastrointestinal, followed by tachycardia, although most of this effect is mild or transient.

The report also points out that the majority of people consume some type of supplement, primarily nutritional, first because they consider it safe, and second because they believe it can improve their overall health.

Supplements with proven effectiveness

  • Folic acid: the most proven nutritional supplement for the prevention of neural tube defects (spina bifida) during pregnancy.
  • Caffeine: undoubtedly one of those with the most positive evaluations and which produces an improvement in sports performance.
  • Vitamin D improves the treatment of respiratory infections in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • The use of calcium supplements may also have positive effects in the prevention of hypertension, especially in men and under 35 years of age, and iron may be effective in deficiency states, for example in cases of anemia.
  • Products for special medical use for weight loss in very low-calorie diets are also effective, although experts advise to always use them under medical supervision.

With questionable effectiveness

  • Probiotics: they are only beneficial with rehydration in case of acute diarrhea or due to the consumption of antibiotics, but little evidence indicates that they are beneficial against respiratory infections, increased defenses or weight loss .
  • Compounds rich in omega-3: in most of them there is not enough quality evidence to draw definitive conclusions, although positive effects have been observed in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, the treatment of gastrointestinal diseases and the improvement of cognition, among others.
  • Plant extracts: complexes of plant extracts (in general), as well as glucosamine, ginseng and garlic extract, are the most studied products, while evaluations related to echinacea, extracts blueberry and artichoke are minor, and there is no clear evidence of effectiveness of any of these supplements.

With unwanted effects

  • The perception that by taking more vitamins or minerals we will have better health is wrong. Indeed, an excess of these nutrients can be harmful, as it could be the case with calcium or iron, and have very serious consequences, as it would occur with vitamin A during pregnancy, which can lead to abnormalities. congenital.
  • Plant extracts: there have been cases of acute liver toxicity, and there have even been deaths from overdosing on some supplements, like the recent one due to consuming lipoic acid for weight loss.

Experts believe that not all supplements follow good manufacturing practices and may not include the amounts of the active ingredient they claim to have on their labeling, as well as promise unproven health benefits and even contain. undeclared substances on the label or on pollutants that can have an impact on health, such as cases of unintentional doping in athletes.

What to do before taking a supplement

The authors of the study warn that before taking any dietary supplement “It is essential to consult a competent health professional, to assess the need to use this supplement and, if so, indicate the appropriate formulation and mode of consumption. ”

There are many nuances in the use of supplements that can make the difference between their effectiveness and their safety, and it is not easy to find out without the proper training.

It also stresses the need to educate the population that just as it is not advisable to self-medicate, it is also not recommended to self-supplement.

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