FOOD, FACTS and FADS

Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health


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From Fact to Fiction: Diet Supplements?

 

So many times when a particular nutrient shows promise with disease prevention, the diet supplement industry goes into  full swing on hyping its benefits in the  form of a pill, aka a  diet supplement. The claims are often exaggerated and when put to the test (if ever) they fail to meet expectations.

What are the actual facts about these supplements?  Do they really meet the claims that are promised? That is why nutrition research becomes important in order to sort out the facts from the fiction.

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Do Weight Loss Supplements Work?

There are always new crops of weight loss supplements that all claim to be effective.  So far, most have only shown little effect when put to scientific scrutiny.  Supplements are generally relatively expensive, so save your money on these. That one magic pill that will melt off the pounds still has not yet arrived – unfortunately.

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Homeopathic Pseudoscience?

 

Homeopathic medicines have the unique quality of claiming they are formulated by the “idea that “like cures like.” That is, if a substance causes a symptom in a healthy person, giving the person a very small amount of the same substance may cure the illness.”  (WebMD)

However, skeptics doubt that this “memory” occurs and there is little evidence that they have any therapeutic qualities and only rely on the power of the placebo effect. These products as well as dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA and consumers pay billions of dollars every year for these “magical” products.

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Another Supplement Disappointment?

Based on two articles that looked at multiple studies, fish oil supplements do not appear to have any previously claimed benefit in the prevention of heart disease.  However, omega-3 fats have other benefits so if you choose to take supplements, they have no known side effects. One precaution: it is not advised that you take fish oil supplements with other blood thinners like aspirin that may interfere with normal blood clotting. Check with your doctor.

Choose salmon, tuna, trout or sardines for the most omega 3 content. Once again, supplements do not offer the healthy benefits of eating whole foods. Save your money and spend it on the fish.

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For a previous study CLICK HERE.


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Are Probiotics Ready for Prime Time?

 

A Bacterial Superbug

The microbiome is all over the nutrition news with studies pouring in on how just about every aspect of our physiology or pathophysiology is dependent on some degree on the kinds of bacteria that make up our collective species found there. As with any supplement, there are pros and cons.

A lot of these studies are done with animals or small samples in human studies.Even though this research shows promise, there are always precautions when taking any supplement since they are not regulated by the FDA. The following article was updated in 2014 and after checking more recent research, I found the same problems exist – inconsistent results, small sample sizes, study flaws, etc. etc. common in nutrition research.

The most common species of bacteria used in probiotics (among a potential 3,000 or more) are species of Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium.  You’ll want a product that explicitly states a “sell-by” date. Once you have identified the right strain or strains (which at this point seems next to impossible), it’s important to find a product that is labeled correctly in terms of the number of bacteria in each dose. Tests from ConsumerLab.com found that some probiotic supplements did not contain the amount of organisms claimed on the label. The organisms must survive stomach acid and therefore should contain an enteric coating to enhance their survival.

The best advice is to talk to your  doctor before taking probiotics as well as any supplement. People who have an immune deficiency or cancer should not use probiotics without a doctor’s okay.

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Brain Supplements?

How many times have we heard  this advice?  Get your nutrients from foods, not supplements. When there is any effect, more than likely it is working through the placebo effect.  As a general rule, if you eat less than 1200 kcal a day, you may consider taking a multivitamin/multi-mineral supplement. Also if you are a vegan, you should consider getting your vitamin B12 from fortified foods.   A B12 deficiency is more likely due to a problem from poor absorption rather than from a low intake alone. Even though vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, blatant deficiency is rare because the body stores and reuses it efficiently. Check with your doctor about your vitamin B12 status and diet supplement use especially if you are elderly or on a restricted diet of any kind.

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The Hazards of Diet Supplements

We are a country obsessed with dietary supplements. Try taking them away and see how people resist the idea.  But do we need all those vitamins and minerals- sometimes, especially during key growth periods (pregnancy and childhood)?

So you think that just to be sure, you should take them as insurance against certain diseases. Maybe not. Sometimes excess is not the answer and may become harmful.  A famous example was a study that gave beta carotene  supplements(vitamin A) to smokers. The reason was that beta carotene was thought to be protective against lung cancer since it functions as an antioxidant. The result showed that there were more cases of lung cancer in the vitamin group than in those smokers given a placebo. Subsequent studies supported this finding.

What does the research say? You may be surprised.

Read the article HERE.