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The FDA does not regulate dietary supplements the same way as medications. Therefore, manufacturers can make claims without submitting evidence as to safety, efficiency, purity, etc. Based primarily on the research by Harvard Medical School and a few other credible research institutions we, identify some of the types of supplements that have been shown to be beneficial. Naturally, we also point out some of the supplements that are not recommended, mostly due to ineffectiveness. Read a summary of the Harvard Supplement Scorecard here.

Recommended Supplements

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BENEFICIAL

Vitamin D

  • Lack of sun exposure due to increase use of sunscreen coupled with long winters can contribute to Vitamin D deficiency.
  • Vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium from the intestines and is important for healthy bones.
  • It is hard to get the vitamin D you need from your diet; oily fish and fortified dairy products are the only significant sources.

Calcium

  • Important to protect you bones and although you can get the amounts you need from food alone, most of us don’t consume enough dairy products and other calcium rich foods to get the calcium you need.

Fish Oil

  • If you eat enough fish (2 times per week or more), you are not likely to benefit from the additional supplement.
  • A major European clinical trial showed that fish oil is beneficial in combating coronary artery disease.
  • If you decide to take fish oil, don’t choose fish liver oil, which has too much vitamin A.

Fiber

  • Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds are the best sources of fiber.
  • Many people need supplements to meet these goals. If you need supplementary fiber, consider psyllium, which has the added benefit of lowering cholesterol levels.

B Vitamins

  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) essential for creation of red blood cell and overall mental and physical health.
  • Folate (aka folic acid) essential for the production of red blood cells, and it has an important role in DNA production and in repairing defects in the genetic code. This is specifically important to take during pregnancy. However, studies also show mixed messages and may have links to certain cancers.
  • B12 (cobalamin): is found only in animal-based foods, so strict vegetarians and vegans may need supplements. A single bowl of cereal can contain the daily dosage but if you are sporadic in your consumption, a supplement may still make sense.

Red Yeast Rice

  • It improves cholesterol levels.
  • It contains a natural form of lovastatin, the statin drug available by prescription as Mevacor since 1987.
  • If you need a statin for your cholesterol, use one of the well-regulated prescription statins under medical supervision.

Protein Powder

  • Clean Label Project™ completed a study of 134 protein powder products from 52 brands. Products were screened for over 130 toxins including heavy metals, BPA, pesticides, and other contaminants with links to cancer and other health conditions. The findings are surprising and upsetting. 70% of protein powders tested revealed a detectable level of lead, 74% revealed a detectable level of cadmium and 55% had detectable levels of BPA.
  • If you are going to consume protein powder, make sure it’s a clean one that contains what is says it contains and is free from toxins. Do your research.
  • Many studies show that there is a clear benefit of protein powder to people with difficulty gaining weight, losing weight and athletes. However, the benefit seems to be only up to 1.6g per Kg of body weight per day. Protein consumed beyond that amount does not seem to have much benefit.

Creatine

  • Generally, exercise scientists agree that supplementing with creatine improves strength during exercise including instances where short bursts of energy are needed.
  • There are many forms of creatine. The most studied and used form of creatine is creatine monohydrate. There is a lot of research available all indicating that it’s safe and effective.
  • Creatine Ethyl Ester does not seem to be effective and is not recommended for use.
  • An increasingly popular form of creatine called Creatine Hydrochloride (HCl) seems promising due to its high-water solubility. It needs to be further researched before it can be recommended.
  • All other forms of creatine are not recommended as they need to be further researched.

Nitric Oxide

There is some evidence that Nitric Oxide might have some positive effect endurance on people new to exercise but not athletes. It appears to be based on XXXXXXXX.

  • Much more research is needed.

NEUTRAL OR INCONCLUSIVE FINDINGS

Antioxidants

Harvard Medical school cautions against the average person taking antioxidant supplements unless you have a moderate or advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin A
  • Beta Carotene
  • Vitamin C

Multivitamins

  • There is no evidence that multivitamins prevent illnesses or even are healthy for us.
  • Slight chance they may be linked to certain cancers.
  • However, since there is even a slight chance of harm and there are no added benefits, it’s a good argument against taking a multivitamin.

Selenium

  • For the men out there, be cautious with Selenium.
  • In 2009, a large multinational trial of selenium and vitamin E, alone or in combination, concluded that neither selenium nor vitamin E had any benefit against prostate cancer.
  • It appears to increase the risk of diabetes.

Glucosamine & Chondroitin

In 2010 meta-analysis of 10 research studies covering 3,803 patients concluded that these supplements have no benefit.

NOT RECOMMENDED

Not an exhausted list but are some of the supplements that have failed trials:

  • Zinc (for the common cold),
  • Echinacea (for respiratory infections),
  • Ginseng and Ginkgo Biloba (for any purpose),
  • Chromium (or any other supplement) for weight loss.

A FEW WORDS OF CAUTION:

  • Supplements, not substitutes
  • If claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Make your decision based on sound research and not by which celebrity is promoting the product.
  • If taking a supplement, know the right dose. More is not always better.
  • Always tell your doctor what supplements you are taking in case of drug interactions.
  • Read ingredient list and be on the lookout for hidden medications.
  • Look for products approved by the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) or NSF International

Supplements FAQ’s

The same applies to trainers or coaches who may be providing recommendations to clients/athletes on the use of such products.

  1. Have any studies been conducted to test the product’s efficacy? And were they performed by an unbiased group? Preferably not by the company selling the product.
  2. Have the results been published? And if so, where? Preferably in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
  3. If studies were conducted, were they performed on a population that represents the potential user? Or were they done in vitro (i.e., test tube), using animals, geriatrics, etc? This is important! What works for one population is not necessarily going to benefit another.
  4. What is the suggested dosage and how does it compare with the dosage used in the clinical studies?
  5. How much does the effective dosage cost? Is this cost justified for the potential gain?
  6. How was the dosage administered in the clinical studies (e.g., oral, intravenous) and is the recommended route of administration the same as for the product of sale?
  7. What makes the product so much better/more effective than the others?
  8. Have any comparative studies been done on the product versus competitive products?
  9. What are the realistic results that the athlete can expect to see after using this supplement?
  10. Are there any known or possible side effects or drug interactions associated with use of this product? Or will this product put the athlete at jeopardy for testing positive for banned substances?