Pop open any medicine cabinet these days and, nestled between your cherry cough syrup and shaving cream, you’re likely to find an array of over-the-counter dietary supplements. In fact, more than half of Americans currently take supplements ranging from multivitamins to minerals to herbs. Consumer Reports says the industry is 27 billion dollars strong and growing.
But, despite our obsession – when put to the test – health experts say many supplements fail to live up to their health claims and some may simply be a waste of money.
[Related: Natural Remedies to the 5 Most Prescribed Drugs]
“It’s cheaper and healthier to get your nutrients through your foods. Plus there are few if any studies that suggest taking supplements will actually make you any healthier. And keep in mind, the supplement industry is very loosely regulated, so it’s easy to fall prey to marketing,” says Brierley Wright R.D., Nutrition Editor at Eating Well.
Of course, there are some exceptions. If you happen to be pushing your cart down the popular supplements aisle, here are three kinds experts say may actually be worth buying.
Unless you’re eating fish two or three times a week you’re probably not getting enough Omega 3, those fatty acids found commonly in fish and plant oils. When shopping, look for DHA and EPA, essential fatty acids that stand for docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid. “DHA and EPA can help prevent heart disease and depression and promote a healthy brain, so this is why we recommend taking this supplement daily,” says Wright.
[Related: How to Ditch Cable]
Also known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D, has been linked to improving your heart’s health and, like calcium, treating bone loss. If you live in the Northeast, you may not be getting enough vitamin D throughout the year, especially if you wear sunscreen. A supplement may be your best bet.
Finally, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you may want to pick up a bottle of Vitamin B12, which helps your body convert fat into energy. This is naturally found in meat, poultry, eggs and dairy. “Getting enough B12 is also critical for normal brain function. This is particularly important if you’re over the age of 50 because you’re not absorbing as much of the nutrients from your food as you were when you were younger,” says Wright.
Before making a purchase, make sure to consult with your doctor. Shop at reputable stores and check for quality by looking for a seal of approval from one of the non-profit groups that reviews supplements such as The United States Pharmacopeia and NSF International.
How about you? Are there any supplements you swear by? Connect with me on Twitter @Farnoosh and include the hashtag #finfit