Tag Archives: dietary supplements

Don’t be an April Fool when it comes to weight loss claims.

Diets don’t work!

Exercise can actually make you gain weight!

You can take supplements that will melt fat away while you sleep!

Claims like these should make you wonder if someone is trying to fool you. Since April Fools’ Day just past, it is worth learning the truth about these common weight loss myths.

Diet pills


Diets don’t work

Considering that most people who lose weight end up gaining it back, this belief is understandable. The fact is that diets do work—that is how people lost weight in the first place! The problem is that many diets simply aren’t sustainable and don’t teach healthy eating habits necessary to keep the weight off. The result is that after the diet ends, a return to old eating patterns leads to gaining the weight back. The solution, of course, is to find a diet that you can stick with even after you have lost weight, one that teaches you how to make healthy choices and adapt your lifestyle.

Exercise doesn’t lead to weight loss

The traditional advice for losing weight is to eat less and exercise more. But some research suggests that exercise itself doesn’t lead to significant weight loss. In fact, exercise alone results in lower weight loss compared to diet only or diet plus exercise. While this is true, concluding that exercise isn’t important is a mistake.

First, even if exercise only leads to a small amount of weight loss (about a half pound per week in my research) it does add up over time and can help someone achieve their weight loss goal more quickly. Second, research involving individuals who have succeeded at long-term weight loss in the National Weight Control Registry shows that exercise is important. It is noteworthy that 94% of these “successful losers” increased their physical activity in order to lose weight and 90% said that they maintain their weight by exercising an average of 60 minutes every day.

You can boost your metabolism and burn fat using supplements

Losing weight really does require making changes to your eating and exercise behaviors. Many of these changes can be difficult, so it is no surprise that people look for shortcuts. And there is no shortcut more appealing than a supplement that will increase your metabolism and burn fat while you sleep.

Keep in mind that there are no dietary supplements that have been shown to be safe and effective for promoting long-term weight loss, despite what the manufacturers claim. In fact, some could even be dangerous. The only way to make a meaningful change in your metabolism is to exercise and significant weight loss simply won’t happen unless you change your diet.

Be especially skeptical when you see words like “flush” and “cleanse,” which are meaningless and have nothing to do with weight loss. There are a few prescription medications and one over-the-counter drug (Orlistat) that has been shown to promote weight loss—but only when combined with a healthy diet and exercise.

Hopefully this advice will help you make healthy decisions and avoid becoming an “April Fool” when it comes to weight loss claims. The good news is that you can start losing weight today by making some simple changes including reducing your portion sizes at meals, choosing water or other calorie-free beverages when you are thirsty, and making it a point to be active every day. These modifications can lead to weight loss now and are exactly the type of changes you need to make to keep the weight off in the long run.

 

Supplements shouldn’t replace food for athletes, either.

Earlier this week I wrote about dietary supplements and whether using supplements means you don’t have to eat healthy food. When it comes to promoting good health, the answer is no!

But what about supplements for athletes or people who exercise to improve fitness or body composition? While many athletes use dietary supplements to help meet their exercise goals, most don’t actually need to. Even if there is a need for additional nutrients, in most cases those demands can be met through actual food rather than supplements.

Sports drink

Dietary supplements are a multi-billion dollar industry with many products marketed specifically to people who exercise. In fact, you may use these supplements already—sports drinks like Gatorade and post-workout protein shakes or smoothies are common in most gyms.

While many sports supplements are effective and even necessary for some athletes, many people who use supplements really don’t need them. This could be because the type of exercise they do doesn’t require them or because they get enough of that nutrient through their diet. And there are some people who might benefit from supplements but don’t use them because of the cost.

This raises the question, can you replace sports supplements with food? One of my former students, Kyle Sprow, examined this question while he was an undergraduate USC Aiken. The supplements he included in his analysis are both widely used and have research to show that they are effective. This is an important point since most sports supplements have no research to support their use. Here I will focus on two supplements commonly used by athletes engaged in strength training: protein and creatine.

Protein supplements are often recommended for people who exercise. The protein requirements for athletes who are attempting to build muscle mass and strength are well above the general recommendation for good health. For example, someone who weighs 200 pounds needs a minimum of 72 grams of protein per day. To put this in perspective, 4 ounces of meat contains about 30 grams of protein. But that same person who is engaged in strenuous resistance training may need twice as much protein!

Many athletes turn to protein supplements to meet this requirement. However, since most athletes eat more total food, this leads to a protein intake that meets this need. And those who do need more protein can get it from food. A can of tuna contains as much protein as a serving of a typical whey protein supplement at a much lower cost.

The timing of protein intake is also important. Research shows that protein consumed immediately after exercise leads to greater muscle growth, especially if it is combined with some carbohydrates. This is why you might have seen a sign in the locker room at the gym reminding you that “your workout isn’t complete” without a special recovery beverage from the juice bar.

But almost any food or drink that contains a mixture of carbohydrates and protein will work.  Research also shows that chocolate milk is just as effective as more expensive supplements for promoting muscle protein synthesis following exercise. It turns out that the mix of carbohydrate and protein in chocolate milk closely matches that in many supplements and is more affordable.

Another popular supplement for boosting muscle mass is creatine monohydrate. This supplement boosts muscle levels of creatine, an important fuel for heavy resistance training. This leads to greater gains in muscle mass and strength, something that is well-supported by research. Unlike protein, it would be very difficult to get enough creatine from food. Most supplements contain about 5 grams of creatine. By comparison, you would need to eat a kilogram (that’s over 2 pounds) of beef to get the same amount!

In most cases, the nutrients in sports supplements can be provided by food at a lower cost. I focused on protein here, but the same is true for carbohydrates, omega-3 fats, and most vitamins and minerals. The exception is creatine for athletes who are doing intense strength training.

Keep in mind that the benefits of protein and creatine supplements are greatest for athletes who do intense training. The type of workouts that most people do to lose weight or improve their fitness do not require supplements at all. In fact, people who exercise to lose weight may find that using certain dietary supplements can interfere with their weight loss goals…and may even lead to weight gain!


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Much ado about nothing: Supplement-free dietary supplements

Dietary supplements, including vitamins, minerals, and herbs, are used by millions of people every day. In fact, over 50% of Americans regularly take dietary supplements. Maybe you are one of them. If so, you should be aware of some recent news that once again raises concerns about supplement use.

This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.


 

Miracle cure pill bottle

The most common reason people report taking dietary supplements is to improve or maintain their health in general, but many take them for specific reasons such as bone health or weight loss. Anecdotal evidence suggests that people who take supplements are healthier than people who don’t. However, supplement users are more likely to eat better, exercise, and not smoke, all of which contribute to good health. [more details here.]

Given the claims made by supplement manufacturers, you may be surprised to learn that there is very little evidence to suggest that taking dietary supplements can improve your health. In fact, no scientific organization recommends the routine use of dietary supplements. Among the few exceptions is folic acid supplementation for women who are or who may become pregnant to prevent neural tube defects in the developing fetus. There aren’t many others.

While there is support for using vitamin or mineral supplements to address individual deficiencies, there is no reason to believe that taking supplements will do much to make a healthy person healthier. The fact that all supplements contain the statement, “This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease,” should tell you something. At best, taking dietary supplements will cause few, if any, benefits; at worst, they may do harm.

There have long been concerns about the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements. Ironically, this is by design. According to the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) manufacturers do not need to prove that their products are effective, only that they are safe. That said, there are instances in which the safety of dietary supplements has been questioned. [you can find tips for using dietary supplements safely here] Some can interfere with the way that other prescription and over-the-counter drugs work. Others may make certain health problems, like high blood pressure or diabetes, worse. And there is a concern that people might use dietary supplements to treat a condition rather than seeking medical help.

You may have seen in the news recently that the New York Attorney General is taking action against four major chain retailers for selling fraudulent and contaminated dietary supplements. DNA analysis showed that many of the supplements examined were completely lacking the active ingredient and contained other ingredients not listed on the label. In one case, a sample of St. John’s Wort contained no actual St. John’s Wort extract, but did contain the extract of a common house plant!

Some supplements undergo quality testing by independent labs, including U.S. Pharmacopeia and NSF International, and have labels which suggest that you are purchasing the actual substance. Keep in mind that this does not guarantee that the supplement will be safe or effective, just that it has been tested for purity.

Despite these questions about supplement purity, safety, and health benefits, there is nothing necessarily wrong with taking dietary supplements. If you choose to take supplements be aware of potential health risks, know that you may not be getting what you pay for, and don’t expect any miracles. And always make sure you tell your doctor which supplements you take to avoid any adverse reactions with other medications.

Finally, remember that no amount of dietary supplements can match the health benefits of good nutrition and regular physical activity.