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Dietary supplements are nothing if not ubiquitous. Many Americans start their days with an extra, non-food kick of vitamins or minerals, and athletes commonly add protein powder to post-workout meals. However, just because supplements are omnipresent doesn’t mean they’re all safe.
In fact, some supplements have been contaminated with dangerous substances so harmful that the beneficial effects of the supplement are essentially canceled out. Other supplements have never been scientifically shown to offer many of the health benefits they claim to provide. Nevertheless, finding safe, healthy, beneficial supplements is far from impossible — here’s how to do so.
Shop for trusted brands
Only buy supplements from familiar names. Trusted retailers and market leaders such as household name drugstore and grocery chains, not to mention supplement-specific stores, are far more likely to carry safe supplements. Additionally, to uphold a stellar reputation with their customers, these stores are more likely to quickly remove recalled or contaminated supplements from their shelves.
Look for trusted markers
The nonprofit US Pharmacopeia analyzes supplements to confirm that the ingredients listed in them are indeed included in the amounts specified. A supplement boasting a USP Verified mark thus does not include any harmful extra substances that could lead to the product being recalled or causing any harmful bodily reactions. As well, any product made according to industry standards should come with a GMP certification and be made at facilities registered with the FDA. Note that the FDA, however, does not regulate the marketing of supplements.
Read up on supplement ingredients and effects
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has a department focused on dietary supplements. The Office of Dietary Supplements’ website is full of fact sheets loaded with useful information about supplements. Consulting these sheets before purchasing supplements can prevent a whole lot of headache further down the line. Similarly, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, also an NIH subdivision, offers a lengthy explainer on healthy supplement use.
Avoid supplements with certain ingredients
There are four key supplement ingredients to avoid at all costs:
- Bitter orange, which has been linked to cardiac arrest and stroke in otherwise healthy people.
- Chromium, which can lead to organ failure if taken in high amounts.
- Kava, which is so strongly linked with liver damage that it’s banned in Europe and Canada.
- Contaminated L-tryptophan, which is linked to neurotoxic reactions.
Avoid entire categories of supplements
In a Journal of the American Medical Association study, researchers found that weight-loss supplements frequently contain an amphetamine called sibutramine. This drug is banned in many developed nations, including the U.S. Many medical experts also advise that exercise and sexual enhancement supplements be avoided.
See a doctor
Medical professionals are best equipped to determine a person’s need for any given supplement. Doctors can advise on whether a specific supplement, be it a vitamin or a more specific supplement such as omega-3 fatty acids, might have any potential side effects given a person’s diet or other prescriptions. If doctors do recommend certain supplements, be sure to adhere to the suggested doses — a 1000 IU capsule of Vitamin D is very different than a 2000 IU capsule.
What supplement shopping tips do you have? Share them with us in the comments!