“They take this black liquid and apparently parasites come out when you go to the toilet. That’s what they claim.” Nutritionist Steph Grasso she told her horrified followers on her TikTok recently, describing a tincture-like product marketed as a dietary supplement. “They take this to de-bloat and detoxify their bodies.”
But Grasso went on to explain, “Some researchers claim it’s the ‘worms’ they see.” actually part of their intestinal lining.”
Obviously, a liquid that melts the gut will do the opposite and improve your health. Nonetheless, you can purchase this product, which is described as beneficial for the “gut flora”, from multiple websites with just one click.
“57.6% of adults 20 years and older reported taking a dietary supplement in the last 30 days”
Ashwagandha for anxiety. Magnesium for tense muscles. Comfrey against menstrual pain. Vitamin C to ward off a cold. Consuming vitamins, mixing powders into our smoothies, and sipping on teas that promise specific benefits is a way of life for most of us. The latest data from the CDC assumes so “57.6% of adults 20 years and older reported using dietary supplements in the last 30 days.” For women, this percentage rises to 63.8%. And nearly 14% of us take four or more supplements.
Of course, it’s an incredibly lucrative business. We spend over $50 billion per year to powders, pills, gummies, and drinks designed to provide extra nutrients, balance our health, and improve our lives — and that number has increased by almost $10 billion in the last five years alone.
Still, many critics describe the industry as virtually unregulated, not being subject to the same Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scrutiny as pharmaceuticals — even the so-called Big Pharma aren’t flawless. The May 2022 issue of the American Medical Association Journal of EthicsFor example, it addressed the risks of “under-regulated dietary supplements” and warned that “labelling of content and claims of purpose, safety or efficacy are best viewed as marketing”.
The question arises: Are our supposedly healthy habits doing more harm than good?
“Patients keep asking, ‘What supplements should I take?'” dr Jeffrey Linderchief of general internal medicine in the medical department at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, told Northwestern Now last year, adding. “You’re wasting money and focus, I think there has to be some magic pill kit that keeps them healthy.” Instead, he said, “We should all follow evidence-based practices of eating healthy and exercising.”
And wasting money or not feeling a measurable benefit can be as good as it gets with certain supplements. In April, TruVision Health — a “wellness” brand with a focus on “weight management” — recalled 12 of its products for containment “possibly uncertain” stimulants. Symptoms the FDA warned and some users reported included “chest pain, chills, diarrhea, dizziness/drowsiness, fatigue, headache, high blood pressure, high heart rate, nervousness, nausea, nervousness, rash, stomach pain or upset, sweating.” and vomiting”. “
Two months later, in June, “tens of thousands” of canisters of the popular Jennifer Anniston endorsed brand “Collagen Peptides” were recalled by Vital Proteins over concerns Fragments of a broken plastic lid contaminated the product.” And when Lori McClintock, the 61-year-old wife of US Representative Tom McClintock, died suddenly in 2021, the immediate cause of death was listed as dehydration from gastroenteritis.
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However, her death certificate was later amended to more specifically state that her condition was due to “adverse effects of eating white mulberry leaves.” Mulberry is a common, usually harmless herb sold in tea or capsule form — often as a weight-loss supplement.
“It’s important to be aware of the potential risks and side effects of certain dietary supplements,” said Susanne Mitschke, CEO and co-founder of citruslabs. “Some dietary supplements may interact with prescription drugs or be unsafe for people with certain medical conditions.
For example,” she explains, “St. St. John’s wort can Interactions with many prescription drugs, including antidepressants, birth control pills and blood thinners. Vitamin K can interfere with the effects of blood thinners like warfarin, reducing their effectiveness. Magnesium can interfere with the effects of some antibiotics and may also interact with medications used to treat high blood pressure. Iron supplements can interfere with the absorption of some antibiotics, thyroid medications, and some types of chemotherapy drugs. CoQ10 may interact with blood thinners and certain medications used to treat high blood pressure and heart disease.”
When there is “great well-being” everywhere we go, it can be tempting to self-medicate in the seemingly safe space of a drugstore aisle or browser window. However, this method can be imprecise at best, especially when it comes to new “promising” herbs or ingredients that are trending on TikTok. But in the world of vitamins and supplements, the claims made about many of these ingredients simply aren’t backed up by solid, peer-reviewed evidence.
Also, there’s often very little information to help determine the quality of the ingredients on the bottle—or if they’re even in it. A 2018 report by the US Government Accountability Office looked at supplements that improve memory, including the tree extract Ginkgo biloba and fish oil, they found that “two of the three memory supplement products tested either didn’t contain the ingredients advertised or didn’t contain the amount of ingredients advertised on the label.” One of them not included any ginkgo at all.
Many of the millions of us who take vitamins and supplements are surrounded by a kind of magical, ambitious thinking. And if we limit ourselves to the relatively safe and sometimes helpful things, there probably isn’t a problem. I am taking a vitamin D supplement based on my medical history and needs as recommended by my doctor. It doesn’t make me feel any different, but I haven’t broken any bones lately.
“Some people would benefit from vitamin or mineral supplementation,” says Joan Salge Blake, Program Director and Clinical Professor of Nutrition at Boston University College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences. “Pregnant women need folic acid because it can reduce the risk of birth defects and babies. Vegans should take a dietary supplement, especially vitamin B 12, or look out for sufficiently fortified foods. But now we come to these dietary supplements whose claims confuse the consumer. You can say, “Vitamin C is needed for a healthy immune system.” That’s great, but that doesn’t mean this product will boost your immune system.”
“These supplements make claims that confuse the consumer.”
Admittedly, I’m one of those serenity-seeking consumers intrigued by these $90 GOOP supplements with clever names like “High School Genes” that cater to “women who feel like their… Metabolism is slowing” or “Why am I so damn tired?” that promise to “help balance an overwhelmed system”. And with lofty claims that they rely on the “best doctors and experts” who “work tirelessly on protocols in their field to help as many patients as possible,” products like these seem confidently crossing the line between alternative and medicine even if the products have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not “intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
During an intense period a few months ago, I decided to experiment with a celebrity-approved “stress-relief” supplement that promised to “quiet the mind and fight mental fatigue.” The promise of a cocktail of “L-Tyrosine, GABA, Ashwagandha, and Rhodiola Rosea Root” drew me in, even though I didn’t know what those things really were or supposedly do.
With hindsight, I can see some of the logic behind the ingredient list — Mount Sinai explains that L-Tyrosine is “an essential component in the body’s production of several important brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, including epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine.” For those treatment of depression, howeverStudies have shown that it has no effect.” Likewise, the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) helps slow down and calm the nervous system, but the Cleveland Clinic notes, “This is not known.” what effects – if any – Taking GABA supplements may affect your brain.”
Just because your body can make something to help you feel good doesn’t necessarily mean that eating more of it will help. We have endogenous opioid peptides in our bodies, but at Target we don’t buy cute little vials of morphine. And just because something claims to be “natural” doesn’t mean it’s good for you. That’s why we don’t make a salad with belladonna. Unfortunately, my bottle of supplements only made me feel nauseous.
so what may is that what we do when we all just want to feel better? Registered Dietitian Meaghan Greenwood suggests: “Do your research and choose reputable brands. Look for third-party certifications such as the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) or ConsumerLab.com that attest to the purity and potency of the dietary supplement.”
dr Julie Guider, Founder of my good belly, notes: “To ensure safety, consult a physician before taking any dietary supplement, particularly if you have a pre-existing medical condition or are taking any other medications.” And Joan Salge Blake advises to remember: “Just because it’s available over the counter it doesn’t mean it’s not without risk.” She also suggests that you eat your veggies. “I don’t want you to spend your hard-earned cash on supplements that have no health benefits or are potentially harmful,” she says, “when you can take the money and buy a few products.”
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