The supplement industry is booming, but are the claims too good to be true? Here takes a deeper look.
We’ve all heard the claims: Drink a cup of coffee with collagen to strengthen slackening skin; snack on an energy bar with beta carotene to fight aging; chew a stick of gum with B and C vitamins to lift your mood. Really? Are You Kidding Me?
The recent growth of over-the-counter vitamins, “functional food and drinks” (which includes waters and protein bars infused with vitamins and nutrients) and “nutraceuticals” (powder and pill supplements to enhance beauty from within) is nothing short of staggering. With sales in the billions, the appeal is convenience combined with lavish product claims that run the gamut from boosting metabolism to smoothing wrinkled skin – and consumers are showing an insatiable appetite for more. As our stress levels skyrocket, an estimated half of all American adults are embracing surprising and innovative ways to get nutrients into their bodies.
“Americans are choosing to see health-care professionals less often due to the high costs of consultations, co-pays and prescription, says a registered dietitian and certified nutritionist in the New York metro area. “People feel they are on their own with respect to general wellness and see supplements as a supportive measure for optimal health.” And that is paying off in a big way: The supplement industry had sales of $28 billion in 2010, up 4.4 percent from 2009, says the Nutrition Business Journal. A new report by Global Industry Analysts Inc. projects sales of functional food and drink will exceed $130 billion by 2015 and nutraceuticals will reach $4.24 billion by 2017.
But when you take the nutrients out of whole foods and put them into pills, powders, drink or bars, can consumers possibly get a consistent benefit? It’s not as easy as the supplement industry seems to imply. “The body was made to absorb nutrients in their natural state, not ones that have been super-processed, probably adding preservatives, sodium and other junk in the process,” says, doctor of integrative dermatology in New York.
By now, we all know the best way to get our nutrients is to eat a healthy diet, rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. We know we should avoid processed sugar and trans fat, stop shoveling our food in on the run and, as so famously said, “eat food, not much, mostly plants.”
But it doesn’t always happen, even for the most well-intentioned eaters. That’s why these days, many medical pros agree” We need more. “Supplements were always intended to fill in the gaps, and, as the word implies, ‘supplement’ real food. “Our food is not enough,” agrees, doctor of lifestyle medicine, North california. Most of us don’t get our daily servings of fruits and veggies, and, even when we do, the use of herbicides and pesticides and overproduction of foods grown in nutrients-depleted soils have lessened their nutritional content.
“If you get five to nine servings of organic fruits and vegetables a day, you’re doing yourself a big favor and probably need fewer supplements because you have fewer bad dietary habits of compensate for, says M.D.,who recommends a multiple vitamin even for the healthiest of eaters. “But most of us don’t and, therefore, most of us don’t get enough antioxidants and Phytonutrients in our diets.”
What to do? With such a range of choices out there, it can be confusing to know what we need. Probiotics? Green powder? Resveratrol? Zipfizz?
To add to the confusion, recent studies have questioned whether supplements offer health benefits at all. Vitamins B6 and B12 are widely touted at heart-healthy, but several studies failed to find they lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, says the Office of Dietary Supplements, part of the National Institutes of Health. Some studies even raised concerns about whether the supplementation may actually cause harm. Results from the Iowa Women’s Health Study, published in Archives of Internal Medicine this fall, found in a sample of more than 38,000 women, multivitamin use over time was linked with a very slight but statistically significant increased risk of early mortality.
Though these studies captured lots of media attention, many doctors remain unconvinced. Studying the effects of supplements is difficult since “you don’t know what else the subjects were taking or what they were eating. “What people eat interacts with the supplements and affects the outcome. The study didn’t collect data on nutritional status or other supplements that were used” M.D. agrees: “There are tons of studies showing the benefits of vitamins, but what gets lost in all this is the quality of the supplements. There is such a huge difference in good and bad quality supplements that doing studies with poor supplements or the wrong type will not produce good results.”
Maybe that’s why researchers at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, among others, are continuing to conduct more small-scale studies on the subjects. Clinical trials currently underway underway focus on how specific vitamin and mineral supplements work with regard to conditions like asthma, menopause, vascular disease and sickle cell anemia, as well as more general studies on supplements’ effectiveness.
So what do you need? The doctors interviewed for this article were in general agreement that most of us can benefit daily from a quality multivitamin, fish oil, a probiotic and vitamin D. Of course, depending on your needs, there are more options out there. Here’s what to look for and why.
Better brands avoid using sugar, lactose, artificial colors and common allergens as the nonnutritional substances that hold the tablets together, says Lipman. Inferior brands use cheaper minerals. “Magnesium oxide is the cheapest form of magnesium,” he says, “so if that is the magnesium in your multivitamin, it is probably not high quality.”
He recommends capsules instead of tablets. “Tablets are hard to break down, and it’s common (especially with tablets containing minerals) that they pass through our digestive tract and never break down,” says Lipman, which is a waste of money and effort. What matters most is bioavailability, or, put more simply, “how much is absorbed.” Look for bioavailability studies on the manufactures’ websites, consult an expert or try a simple test: Put your supplement in vinegar for 30 minutes and make sure it breaks down. A good multivitamin should contain vitamin D as well as the usual A, B, C and E, along with basic minerals. According to a 2010 study by the Institute of Medicine, 600 international units per day is the necessary minimum daily dose. Let your doctor know what you’re taking, and ask her advice if she sees a need for additional iron or calcium as you age.
To get the minimum omega fatty acids through diet, you would need to eat wild salmon (farmed does not have as mang omega 3s) at least three times per week. “Most of us cannot eat enough fish to supplement these fatty acids are the building blocks of our cell membranes and crucial to brain and heart health. Omega-3 fatty acids are also good for our eyes and skin and discourage inflammation.
Fish oil contains two essential omega 3s: EPA and DHA. Fish oil also regulates oil production resulting in nourished and hydrated skin, which helps delay the skin’s aging process. Omega-3 fatty acids help cells fight free radicals; they may also soothe dry skin by boosting its lipid content and minimize symptoms of eczema. they are also an anti-inflammatory. When choosing one, make sure it’s labeled mercury and PCB-free. (Fishman recommends Nordic Naturals.) You may also want to try krill oil – sourced from the tiny fish that are the staple diet for whales. This new fish oil also contain astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant. Good sources of omegas for vegetarians: evening primrose oil, flaxseed or borage oil.
- Green Powder Drinks
Lipman recommends a mixed green concentrate (green powder) every morning. “One of the best things about it is that you can easily get a blend of many grasses, algae, enzymes, vegetables, fruits and berries,” he says. “It’s a good sources of densely packed nutrition.” Choose an organic greens powder without any fillers. Lipman has his own line, Be Well Greens; Green SuperFood and Go Green also get high marks from our pros. Fringe benefit: A podered drink not only absorbs and digest easily, but it also gets you to drink more water.
If you have specific health concerns – i.e., maintaining healthy skin and hair, boosting your metabolism or re-energizing after a workout – here are key ingredients to help accomplish your goals.
The most important nutrients for healthy skin, hair and nails are vitamin C and copper, for collagen production; alpha lipoic acid, to help vitamin C and E work more effectively; biotin, a coenzyme that works with B vitamins for hails and nails; and vitamin A, to help skin cell differentiate. Most multivitamins contain these elements.
If you take a multiple as well as a “beauty vitamin” like Glisodin Skin Nutrients, you may be getting too much of a good thing. Certain fat-soluble vitamins, including A, D, E and K, should not be taken in megadoses, “They can build up in your system and lead to toxicity as they are not excreted by the kidneys,” says Fishman. If you want to target beauty benefits with these vitamins, be sure not to go above the RDA (recommended daily allotment).
A potent antioxidant, resveratrol has been shown to reduce the rate of aging in round worms, fruit flies and yeast, according to study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Resveratrol affects a gene associated with longevity and reduces inflammation in humans that can lead to heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury and stress; chronic inflammation occurs when the process goes wrong and targets healthy tissue. “Decreasing inflammation is absolutely essential for long-term health and healthy skin,” says Fishman. “The chemicals of inflammation lead to the destruction of collagen and elastin in the skin, which contribute to aging.”
Resveratrol is found naturally in tomatoes, cantaloupes and, most notably, in the skin of red grapes-yes, that means red wine. So drink up! If you’re not a wine drinker, look to a supplement. Our sources liked Resveratrol, which is extracted from organic red grape skins.
One thing you can take a pass on is collagen-infused food and drink. Popular in Asia and becoming popular here, these claim to tighten connective tissue, but our experts don’t see it. “Collagen is a very large molecule that does not get into tissue easily,” says Fishman. “That’s why you cannot just put collagen on skin and expect it to penetrate, and that is why the frist filler as injectable collagen. there is no good science to back up drinking collagen for better skin health.”
Metabolism, weight loss and digestion
Whether you suffer from workout fatigue, uneven digestion or just need a pick-me-up at slump time, supplements and energy drinks can help. Powdered drinks like Healthy To Go’s Acai Natural Energy Boost and Trim energy (which you mix with water) have an indirect benefit as well – they get you drinking eight to additional ounces of water each day, which is good for overall health and fills you up. But remember: Energy drinks and powders are often loaded with artificial sweeteners, sugars, preservatives and filler, so read the label carefully to avoid those ingredients.
- B Vitamin
“B vitamins are needed to metabolize fats, carbs and protein, and they also help the body deal with stress. “B3 [niacin] supports fat metabolism, B5 [panotothenic] supports conversion of nutrients and foods to energy production and B12 improves energy levels.” Get your Bs in a multivitamin or in popular, sugar-free drinks like Zipfizz. Mixed with water, this supplement also has ciirculation boosters like ginger, green tea and ginseng and is fortified with vitamin B12, known to support energy, boost metabolism and promote weight loss.
- Tea Extract
Common ingredients that target weight loss include yerba mate, a natural stimulant; green tea extract, which contains caffeine; and EGCG, a metabolism booster that burns fat. Green tea can also raise thermogenesis, which allows the body to burn more calories and boost energy levels. Bonus: These powders may also contain chromium, a mineral that promotes a healthy metabolism, along with fiber powders to fill you up. You can buy powdered green tea at health food stores – Green Breeze powdered tea is a good one – and mix it in water; another option is Fruitein Revitalizing Green Foods Shake, which contains other green ingredients including barley grass and spinach.
“Probiotics are microorganisms such as bacteria or yeast that are believed to improve health, especially the digestive system and the immune system,” says Fishman. They work by balancing out the good bacteria in the digestive system. “If we do not have enough ‘good’ bacteria in our digestive system,” says Fishman, “our nearby immune cells get revved up,which can lead to inflammation in other parts of the body.” You can get probiotics in non-processed yoghurt, but you’d need to eat at least six cups a day to equal the benefits in a probiotic capsule. She recommends a daily dose of Culturelle – it contains Lactobacillus GG, the most studied for skin problems.
Those of us who grew up on Gatorade remember slugging back the brightly colored drink after an athetic event and feeling an almost instant surge of replenishment. When you sweat, you lose electrolytes (magnesium, potassium), which are important for muscle function. If you exercise for more than 60 to 90 minutes, you need to rehydrate and replace your electrolytes. Electrolytes, as well as the amnio acids L-arginnine and L-tyrosine, can help muscle recovery after a workout. Unless you’re in serious training (i.e., exercising for more than four hours at a time), you don’t need more than the electrolyte levels found in most sports drinks. look for a combination that includes up to 80 grams of potassium, 45 grams of sodium and up to 25 milligrams of magnesium. We like Ultima Replenisher, which is sugar-free and has no artificial coloring. Coconut water is another healthy alternative – it’s loaded with potassium.
Although the body naturally forms antioxidant coenzyme Q10, production starts to decrease around years old. Restoring CoQ10 is crucial to energy production and can reduce fatigue and boost performance for athletes. If you’re a serious athlete, supplement with CoQ10 and get your amino acids; if you’re not, check with your doctor to see if you need it.
- Super Fruits
It’s confusing to distinguish between energy drink for workouts and those that boost energy overall. Here’s the lowdown; “Pre- and post-workout, you need proteins, carbs and amino acids. “That’s different from the 4 p.m. slump in the office, when a lean snack will really help.” If you simply need the latter, go for a powdered super-fruit drink with acai, pomegranate or berries; two good ones are Amazing Grass Green SuperFood or Healthy To Go Extreme Berries.