Fact or Fanfare? A Primer on Common Supplements

You can’t scroll through your Facebook feed or turn on the news without seeing a mention of health supplements. People seem to think that optimal health is something you get from a bottle, when the reality is that it’s more complex and more dependent on your actions than anything. Many nutritional enhancements certainly offer some benefits, while others do more harm than good. 

 

Zinc

 

There is nothing new about zinc, an element that plays a major role in the immune system. Recently, research scientists at the University of Auckland have made claims that zinc may be effective in eliciting behavioral changes in children with autism. It is suspected that zinc deficiency blocks the brain’s synapses, which results in psychiatric disorders and behavioral abnormalities.

 

Some parents of autistic children have publicly praised the results of adding zinc supplements to their autistic child’s daily routine. While there is compelling evidence that zinc supplements are not harmful and offer some health benefits, dosage should be carefully monitored as intake in excess of the Recommended Dietary Allowance can trigger zinc toxicity, which manifests in fatigue, epigastric pain, nausea, and lethargy.

 

XOS

 

Xylooligosaccharides, or the more tongue-friendly, XOS, is a family of prebiotic fibers. It comes naturally from things like rice bran, bamboo shoots, and milk. Prebiotics are essential to gut and, thus, overall health. According to the Mayo Clinic, “what you feed your microbiome may have the biggest impact on its health.” Your internal microbiota is made up of billions of bacteria that help keep you healthy. Prebiotics, such as XOS, work like a fertilizer to keep these healthy bacteria strong. By feeding these organisms, you allow them to do their job, which, in part, is to help regulate weight. In other words, prioritizing your gut, and specifically what you put into it, may help you eat your way to a healthy weight.

 

5-HTP

 

5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) is cultivated from griffonia simplicifolia, an African plant that has been used for centuries to treat a number of disorders. It is marketed as a supplement to reduce the symptoms of depression and to treat chronic insomnia. There is little clinical evidence, however, that 5-HTP is beneficial beyond its mild antidepressant properties.

 

Garcinia cambogia

 

A popular weight loss remedy, garcinia cambogia has been lauded by TV doctors and television personalities for more than a decade. Unfortunately, there is conflicting evidence of its effectiveness. Some medical sites claim that the hydroxycitric acid in the rind of the plant promotes weight loss. Others, including the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, report that there is, “no convincing evidence that garcinia cambogia will help you lose weight.”

 

Echinacea

 

Echinacea is one of the most popular supplements in the country, and it’s a $300 million business. Native to North America, American Indians have been known to use echinacea since at least the 1600s. It is thought this botanical activates cells that fight invading organisms. Echinacea increases body temperature and increases white blood cell count, but it remains contested whether claims of staving off colds are warranted.

 

Vitamin B12

 

B12 drops are sold in drugstores, and injectable B vitamins are available through many health clinics as a remedy for fatigue. It is true that a B12 deficiency can lead to fatigue, as well as other symptoms, including, memory loss and dizziness. However, as a water-soluble vitamin, B12 not needed by the body will simply be flushed away in urine, so supplements may offer no additional benefits over eating foods high in this and other vitamins.

 

Before purchasing, talk to your doctor about taking Zinc, CBD, 5-HTP or any other non-regulated supplements. They can help you make a more informed decision or offer alternatives that are proven effective to treat your symptoms.

 

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