There is an incredible variety of supplements on the market from vitamins to dietary supplements and plenty more. There are a number of possibilities for the rising popularity of health supplements, but some likely candidates are obesity, diabetes, and generally sedentary lifestyles. Regardless of the reasons, the supplement industry is estimated to be worth $278 billion by 2024. It’s a matter of some controversy as far as how many of these actually work or list entirely accurate information about their ingredients. Officially, supplement manufacturers are prohibited by the FDA from marketing products that are intentionally “adulterated or misbranded.” Really, this means the manufacturers themselves are responsible for ensuring that their products are safe, and the FDA only inspects them after they’ve hit market.
Understandably, this has led to some groups becoming suspicious of supplements that promise better versions of ourselves. Some health experts only recommend supplements like vitamins or calcium—the ones that seem obviously healthy. Of course, needs for anything will change on a case by case basis. If you’re interested in supplements, there are some general questions you should ask before committing.
Do I really need them?
This should be the most obvious question. Why are you interested in supplements in the first place, and are they really necessary? It’s hopefully common sense, but your doctor will be the best person to consult about this. You also might seek advice from a dietician. If you’re taking any medications, you’ll definitely want to ask your doctor about specific supplements you’re considering, as certain kinds can interfere with treatment. Ask your doctor about recommended dosage as well, as certain minerals that are usually healthy can become dangerous when taken in excess. In most cases, the likeliest reason a doctor would recommend a supplement would be to cover gaps in your diet. You’ll then need to research to find the right one.
What claims do they make?
A big warning sign of supplements to stay away from is if they make overly bold claims. Supplements are technically considered food, not medicine, so they shouldn’t be claiming to cure anything. They can, however, help improve general health. The most notable examples of this are multivitamin supplements which can enhance cell health and offer other positive benefits. They can also be great in specific situations, like iron boosters for pregnant women. Just remember that the old adage applies here: if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
Does research turn up warnings?
One of the first things you should do when you find a supplement that piques your interest is to check if it has resulted in any health warnings. Some newer products may not have been out long enough for any official, extended research. The FDA offers some general advice on things to look out for. Big warning signs can be who runs the site or what its general purpose seems to be. If it looks less like a genuine effort to educate the public about the supplement and more like an effort to simply sell it, you’re probably better off looking elsewhere.
Is there evidence in favor of the supplement?
If you don’t find anything obviously wrong with a supplement, you might as well check to see if there is any proof that it does what it promises. Study the ingredients in the supplement and their general effects on the human body to see if they’re what you’re looking for. If the supplement has been out for a while, the FDA should have specific information for it, as well.
If you find a supplement that sounds right for you, and it passes all of your checks, then by all means try it out. It might be exactly what you need. Just be careful about grabbing things off the shelf with reckless abandon.