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Are Supplements Really What They Claim?

Nutrition supplement distributors accused of marketing fake substances.

The Attorney General (AG) of New York has filed a criminal complaint against several distributors of nutritional supplements, claiming they are not what they claim to be. According to the NY AG St. John's wort, Gingko biloboa, Echinacea, Ginseng, and other supplements are nothing more than rice, wheat, mustard, garlic and other common food products. This complaint confirms what many have suspected. Even if these are pure and unadulterated there is little proof they would be beneficial.

PositiveTip: Avoid illusions and rationally choose what you purchase and consume.

Don't Be Afraid of Your Food

“I’m afraid my food was grown in poor soil and doesn’t have the right nutrition.” “What if my food has been contaminated by pesticides?” “Will I get cancer from my food?” “Did someone irradiate my food?” “Do I need to avoid a certain types of food?”

These are questions heard by nutritionists every day from concerned people – who are misinformed. The misinformation comes from multiple sources: who have a “safer” product to sell, who have a “back to nature” agenda, who have done their research on fear-mongering web-sites. And some – also as fearful – are “helping” to spread “the truth” about the “dangerous” condition of food. The truth is – in general – food in the United States is safe.

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Selenium Supplements May Increase Prostate Cancer Risk

Men received no preventive benefit from selenium or vitamin E supplements.

"Men using these supplements [selenium and/or Vitamin E] should stop, period." These are the words of Alan Kristal, author of a new study examining why some men are at increased risk of prostate cancer when taking these supplements. Men with high selenium levels at baseline who took selenium supplements increased their risk of high-grade cancer by 91% (P=.007). 

PositiveTip: Dietary supplements may not be helpful or innocuous--they may be harmful.

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Extra Vitamin E Ineffective

Vitamin E supplements did not reduce mortality.

Researchers combined results from 57 clinical trials of Vitamin E supplementation. In more than 246,000 participants doses up to 5,500 IU per day appeared to have no effect on all-cause mortality. It has been thought that an antioxidant like Vitamin E might benefit diseases associated with oxidative stress. The good news from this pooled data is these supplements seem to be safe and do not increase the risk of death.

PositiveTip: Eating a diet that includes moderate amounts of healthy fats provides all the Vitamin E needed for health.

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Kidney Stone Risk and Vitamin C Supplements

Ascorbic acid supplements associated with increased risk of kidney stones.

Swedish researchers have underscored how too much of a good thing might be harmful. Men who took extra vitamin C were nearly twice as likely to develop painful kidney stones than those not taking the supplement. A dose effect was seen, as those taking the supplement more than once a day had the highest risk.

PositiveTip: Remember, the safest way of getting your vitamins and minerals is in the healthy foods you eat.

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Dietary Supplements Banned from Hospital

Children's Hospital removes supplements from formulary for good reasons.

Last July, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia removed all dietary supplements from their formulary. This was done for regulatory and safety reasons. Labeling of many supplements is not accurate. For instance, a selenium product labeled as having 200 micrograms actually contained 20,800 micrograms. Another issue is drug-drug interaction such as patients who reject transplants because they are taking St. John's wort.

PositiveTip: More and more experts agree: if you are not eating a wholesome, healthful diet, taking a pill is not the solution.

Sould I Be Taking Calcium Supplements?

"Dr. Jack, I was told that I should be taking calcium supplements because of my age. What do you think?” Nora, a 52 year old, small, thin, pale Caucasian stared intently at her doctor. “I was told that I had small bones and was probably osteoporotic. Should I be taking calcium and Vitamin D?”

Dr. Jack Reynolds folded his hands and leaned back in his chair. “Well, Nora, I never like to generalize with patients. It all depends on who you are and what you are, doesn’t it?” He smiled. “Yes, you are small-boned and small-boned women are prone to fractures but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are osteoporotic or that you should be taking supplements.

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DMAA Not Found in Geraniums

Not all products claimed to be natural are natural.

Have you ever been tempted to use "naturally occuring" dietary sports supplements like geranamine (1,3-Dimethylamylamine, DMAA)? Think again! Researchers have demonstrated that this compound, found in many nutrition and sports supplements, is entirely synthetic. In fact, it was not found in any of the geranium oils tested. Again, the unregulated supplement market has been caught promoting a fraud.

PositiveTip: Beware of products claiming power effects from only "natural" substances. They have often been adulterated in some way. 

Can Nutritional Supplements Alter Student Behavior?

A group of researchers reported that children aged 6-12 years  given low dose vitamin-mineral supplements were involved in less violence and antisocial behavior than those who did not receive the supplements. [Ref: The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. February 2000, 6(1): 7-17] The setting for this study was two "working class" schools in Arizona in which 468 students participated.  Half the students were given vitamin-mineral pills containing 50% of the U.S. RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowances) for four months while the rest got a placebo.

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Calcium Supplement Caution

Use of calcium supplements may increase risk of heart attack.

German researchers have found that calcium supplements are associated with almost double the risk for a heart attack, compared to those who did not supplement. Nearly 24,000 residents aged 35 to 64 were followed for 11 years. Those who took calcium supplements had a 1.88 increase in risk for heart attack. Calcium from dietary sources did not increase risk.

PositiveTip: Calcium supplements should only be taken with caution. It is best to get this nutrient from a balanced diet.