Benefits of Supplements Under Scutiny

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Supplements have been under scrutiny over the past few weeks from researches and journal publications.

Sure, some supplements may be more effective than others. Here are some basic questions you should ask yourself before taking a supplement:

Is this the right form of the supplement, and is it natural or synthetic?

The Journal of the American Medical Association released a study suggesting that vitamin E supplements increase prostate cancer risk for men. The results of the study are puzzling. Taking 400 IU of vitamin E seemed to increase risk; so did taking 200 mcg of selenium. But when men received both the vitamin E and the selenium together, the risk was about the same as taking nothing at all.

The real problem here, however, is the form of the vitamin, which was synthetic alpha-tocopherol. Jonathan Wright, MD, explained that nature does not give us isolated alpha-tocopherol; it gives us a mix of alpha-, beta-,delta-, and gamma tocopherols, and that too much alpha interferes with what seems to be the more important gamma form of the vitamin. Synthetic alpha-tocopherol is not a good substitute for the natural form, and that tocopherols in nature are always accompanied by the tocotrienols.

What is true for tocopherols is true for other vitamins. If we take extra beta-carotene, we should take other carotenes to balance it. If we take more of a B vitamin, we will probably need more of other B vitamins to balance it. This is one of the problems with trying to apply drug trial methods to supplements. It isn’t one supplement that helps or hurts us. It is achieving the right balance through food, supplements, and exercise.

Are there co-factors that must be taken with it?
A Archives of Internal Medicine study concluded that calcium was the one supplement that might lengthen life. This does not agree with better research. A large problem is that calcium needs to be taken with co-factors, especially vitamins D3 and K2. If these co-factors are not present, the calcium may migrate to the heart or circulatory system rather than to the bones where it is needed. If calcium is taken without supplemental magnesium, there may be other problems.

Do I trust the company selling it and am I taking the right amount?
These are interrelated questions since the company will advise you on the amount to take. Once again, in addition to seeking professional advice, you should do some research on your own. Start with the supplement company’s website. Contact the company. Ask whether the material is natural or synthetic, where it gets its raw materials, and what sort of testing regime it has. Some supplement companies test everything very carefully. Some don’t. Insist on getting answers about this. Good companies will be proud of their testing and will want to tell you about it.

For more information about supplements and health, visit the Alliance for Natural Health’s website at www.anh-usa.org.