5 Popular Supplements Scrutinized
There are a lot of unknowns about some of the most used supplements
By Michael Smith, MD
Reviewed By Cynthia Haines, MD
When it comes to supplements, "buyer beware" only goes so far these days. Patients have been interested in supplements for years, but doctors have been slow to recommend them. Don't be too hard on doctors. It's ingrained in us to look for strong evidence that a treatment works without doing harm. That's a good thing.
But as more research comes out, more doctors are getting on board. But we still know very little about supplement effectiveness, and what we do know doesn't look all that great.
So, if you're going to take supplements, which ones are most likely to give you the effect that you're looking for without causing you harm?
Here's a summary of what we do -- and don't -- know about five of the most popular supplements based on current research.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin
These two supplements -- both components of natural joint cartilage -- have been fairly well-studied in the treatment of osteoarthritis -- also called degenerative arthritis.
There are many different brands of glucosamine and chondroitin. Do your research and find a reputable brand. Take it for at least four to eight weeks before deciding if it works for you.
If bigger muscles are what you're looking for, creatine may be the supplement for you.
But as more research was unveiled, a different story unfolded.
What we don't know:
Creatine does appear to increase muscle size -- at least in young men who hit the gym pretty hard -- but the question remains if it's from the creatine or just harder work.
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a naturally occurring hormone in the body produced by the adrenal glands, which are located on top of the kidneys. DHEA supplements are made from plant chemicals.
Since DHEA levels fall as we age, the theory is that DHEA supplements might help fight the effects of aging. But there's still way too little research at this point to claim much of anything.
Red, white, Korean, Siberian... ginseng comes in many varieties and is accompanied by even more health claims.