- Get what your body needs from your diet, not from pills.
- Discuss supplements with your healthcare provider before taking them.
- For most products, there have been no proper, scientific clinical studies to prove safety and efficacy.
- Their long-term effects remain unknown.
- Most supplements have many different varieties. There is continuing uncertainty about which variety (and what dosage) is best.
Our take: Research has been accumulating about ALA, but so far not enough is known to recommend supplements. No one knows what dose and which form of ALA should be used for what ailment of condition.
Our take: If you get migraines and conventional preventive strategies haven’t worked, butterbur may be worth a try. Petadolex is the safest option; you can’t be sure about other butterbur extracts, even if they make alkaloid-free claims. Don’t use butterbur if you are allergic to plants in the daisy family (including ragweed, marigolds, and chrysanthemums).
Our take: Don’t take CLA supplements, especially if you have diabetes or liver disease. The risks outweigh the small potential benefits. CLA naturally found in food is fine – and may even be good for you. Full-fat dairy foods and meats from grass-fed animals are the richest food sources.
Our take: DHEA’s benefits are unproven and its potential risks are numerous. There are very few medical indications for it, and in those cases it should be taken under medical supervision. There is no logical reason why DHEA is not regulated as a drug like other sex hormones.
Our take: The claims about echinacea as a treatment for colds have yet to be supported by solid research. Because it may affect the immune system, some experts believe echinacea may worsen autoimmune disorders such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. If you have any of these conditions, it’s safest to avoid Echinacea – or at least talk with your health care provider before using it.
Our take: Fenugreek has interesting properties that make it worth studying. But we recommend you limit its use to cooking and skip supplements, since their benefits are unproven and their long-term safety unknown. Keep in mind that if high-dose fenugreek does lower blood sugar, its effects could be unpredictable, which could be risky in people with diabetes.
Our take: We recommend you forget about glucosamine – unless you are willing to pay $20 or more a month for what is probably a placebo effect. If you already take it and find it helps, continue with it, but consider stopping for a while to see if there’s a difference.
Our take: Larger and larger studies are needed to confirm the current findings. But for people with dementia, huperazine A may be worth a try under medical supervision. Keep in mind there’s no evidence so far that the supplement boosts memory in healthy people or reduces the risk of dementia – which is also true, unfortunately, of all the many other supplements marketed for these purposes.
Our take: People at risk for iron deficiency should take a multivitamin / mineral containing iron. Doctors may advise a higher-dose iron supplement for certain conditions. But don’t take high-dose iron on your own – certainly not just because you are tired and think you may be anemic. And make sure you keep iron supplements out of the reach of kids: They are a leading cause of childhood poisoning deaths.
Our take: Until well-designed clinical studies show that jojoba supplements are safe and effective for weight loss, don’t take it.
Our take: The risks of kava outweigh any benefits, especially if you have any kind of liver condition or take medication that can affect liver function. Other names kava may go by on supplement labels include kawa, ava, kew, tonga, yangona, and intoxicating pepper. If you suffer from ongoing anxiety or sleep problems, consult your health care provider, rather than take kava.
Our take: We do not recommend lysine. Its effect is unproven, and there are safe and effective supplements. Take them only when you feel a cold sore coming on, not continually.
Our take: If you take melatonin, do so only occasionally and short term, since its long-term safety (and effectiveness) is unknown. Prolonged use may, for instance, undermine the body’s ability to produce its own melatonin. Like other sleeping pills, melatonin can produce a “hangover effect” and drowsiness the next day. If you have chronic insomnia or another sleep disorder, get medical advice.
Our take: Statins remain the first-line choice because they lower LDL most and have been proven to prevent heart attacks and strokes. But if you can’t tolerate statins, you and your doctor may want to consider niacin, among other choices.
Our take: Recent studies on omega-3s have largely been disappointing, and the proposed cardiovascular benefits, in particular, now seem uncertain. A better bet is to get omega-3s from two or three servings of fatty fish a week, though the American Heart Association continues to advise people with heart disease or high triglycerides to continue taking supplements after consulting their doctors. Supplements have few, if any, side effects – and some of the proposed benefits may still pan out in future research.
Our take: We don’t recommend policosanol. Besides the questions about its efficacy, there’s little or no research about its long-term safety. In contrast, statin drugs have been well studied and are proven to be effective – and their side effects are known, so you can be monitored for them. What’s more, many generic statins are cheaper than many supplements.
Our take: If you eat lots of fruits and vegetables, you’ll get a fair share of quercetin. Skip the supplement – the research, though sometimes encouraging, is still too limited. It’s uncertain how bio-available the quercetin in some supplements even is, compared to dietary quercetin. And it’s possible that quercetin works best in synergy with other flavonoids in foods, not as an isolated compound.
Our take: While resveratrol is a promising compound, so far there have been no clinical trials on its effects on diseases and longevity in humans. Many studies are underway. The supplements appear to be safe, but their long-term effects are an open question. No one knows yet what doses are optimal or who would benefit. Until more is known, get your resveratrol from your diet.
Our take: Depression is a serious condition and you should not self-diagnose or self-medicate. Despite debate about the magnitude of the effect of prescription antidepressants, these drugs are still a first-choice treatment, especially for more severe depression. Still, St. John’s wort may be an option for mild to moderate depression, though if you are already taking a prescription antidepressant, you should not switch on your own or combine the two. A word of caution: The herb increases sun sensitivity when taken at high doeses or with sun-sensitizing drugs, and it can interfere with many drugs, including statins, the blood thinner warfarin, and oral contraceptives.
Our take: Don’t take L-tryptophan (or closely related 5-HTP, also sold as a supplement). The pills may pose health risks, besides the risk of contamination. And a large intake of any single amino acid may interfere with the absorption or utilization of other amino acids.
Our take: The claims for CoQ10 are overblown, and there’s no reason to take the supplement if you are healthy. No one knows how much to take or which formulation, if any, is best. Its long-term safety is still unknown. If you have heart disease, high blood pressure, or Parkinson’s disease and are considering CoQ10, discuss it with your health care provider first.
Our take: We don’t recommend valerian. It may not be more effective than a placebo, and you may not even be getting the “real thing” when you buy the supplements.
Our take: There's no evidence to support the use of wolfberry supplements to treat any medical conditions. No doubt, the berries are healthful, but there’s nothing magical about them to support their often-inflated prices (especially when sold as dried berries or in juices). All berries are nutricious and high in antioxidants.
Our take: There’s not enough solid evidence behind astaxanthin to recommend it. Though the supplements seem to be safe, that’s what we used to think about another carotenoid, beta carotene, which, at high doses, has been shown to increase lung cancer risk in smokers. Plus, unpleasant side effects – including unnatural orange-colored skin – are possible.
Our take: Because of safety concerns and the variability of the active ingredient, yohimbe should not be used.
Our take: If you are a vegan or are for any reason not consuming adequate zinc, consider taking a basic multi containing zinc (not a separate high-dose zinc supplement). If you want to try zinc lozenges when you have a cold, start as soon as you have symptoms. If you have AMD [age-related macular degeneration], talk to your eye doctor about the AREDS [Age-Related Eye Disease Study] formula. There’s no evidence that zinc or any supplement can prevent AMD or cataracts or otherwise protect healthy eyes.