The Good, The Bad & The Uncertain
People like quick fixes. It’s in our nature as human beings. Whether your motivation is weight loss, improved fitness, increased longevity or simply better health, someone out there has a solution for you that takes WAY less time and effort than the traditionally held view.
When it comes to nutrition, these “quick fixes” often come in the form of supplements. Knowing this, it probably won’t come as a surprise that most supplements are completely bogus. However, it’s also true that some supplements can be beneficial – at least in certain situations. So how do you distinguish the good from the bad?
To simplify the issue, I’ve broken down the following popular supplements into three categories; The Good, The Bad and The Uncertain.
Supplements that have a solid body of research behind them to indicate their use in certain situations.
Vitamin or mineral supplements – Vitamins and minerals can make a lot of sense if you’ve been diagnosed with a deficiency or are at risk for developing a deficiency. A few such examples are calcium for post-menopausal women, folic acid during pregnancy or multi-vitamins for children with low fruit and vegetable intakes.
Probiotics – These “good” bacteria are a great option to help to relieve gastrointestinal symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and also appear to improve immunity.
Omega-3’s – Most people don’t eat enough fish, and thus have a difficult time getting the required omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. In this situation omega-3 supplements, like fish oil or flax seed oil, can help to reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
Supplements that make wild, “too-good-to-be-true” claims with essentially zero scientific research to back them up. Don’t waste your money.
Raspberry Ketones – Despite getting a lot of press in recent years (and even celebrity endorsements!) there hasn’t been a single study done in humans that demonstrates raspberry ketones will help you to lose weight.
Cinnamon (or other natural supplements that claim to improve your blood sugar) – These can be downright dangerous, as there is no evidence that they have any positive impact on your blood sugar levels. People with diabetes who choose to forego their medications in favour of these supplements can suffer serious health complications.
Supplements that have not yet been proven to be beneficial in humans. They may have shown promise in animal studies or in the lab, but in the real world the results are mixed at best. Also probably not worth your time.
Glutamine – This amino acid is a supplement that has been around for a while and is claimed to help improve everything from immunity to protein metabolism to cravings for sugar. Unfortunately the evidence for such claims is often greatly exaggerated. For every study showing promise, there are several others showing it has no meaningful effect.
Carnitine – This supplement has some legitimate medical uses – in kidney disease for example – however, as a nutritional supplement it is most often marketed as a “fat burner” that will help to improve your exercise performance and perhaps help you to lose weight. Sadly, the evidence for these claims just doesn’t exist.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) – Despite being marketed as a powerful weight loss supplement, studies show that while supplementing with CLA may result in weight loss in some people, the effect is so small that it’s clinically irrelevant.
Generally speaking, if you’re a healthy individual who eats a balanced diet, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, there’s probably little need for you to be taking supplements. However, if you do choose to take them, keep in mind that some supplements can interact with other medications or even be toxic at high levels, so it’s a good idea to consult with your healthcare professional before adding them to your daily regimen.
Marcus O’Neill is a Registered Dietitian from Canada, currently residing in Maadi. He can be reached by email at [email protected], or you can follow him via Twitter (@marcusoneillrd), or his website (www.dietitianabroad.com).