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Supplements: what you need to know

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Supplements: what you need to know

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The health effects of common supplements need more study. Among these we can find glucosamine (for joint pain) and herbal supplements such as echinacea (claimed to boost immune health) and flaxseed oil (which should aid digestion).

It is important to bear in mind that even if supplements may have mild effects, they could also cause side effects. Hence, approaching them with caution is fundamental. 

Vitamin K, for example, will reduce the ability of blood thinners to work. Ginkgo Biloba can, on the other way round, increase blood thinning. Moreover, just because a supplement is promoted as "natural", doesn't necessarily mean it's safe. It's important to know the chemical makeup, how it's prepared, and how it works in the body, especially for herbs, but also for nutrients. 

My recommendation would be to talk to a health care provider for advice on whether you need a supplement in the first place, the dosage and possible interactions with medicine you're already taking. 

For vitamins and minerals, check the % Daily Value (DV) for each nutrient to make sure you're not getting too much.

Manufacturers are also responsible for the product's purity, and they must accurately list ingredients and their amounts. But there's no regulatory agency that makes sure that 

labels match what's in the bottles. You risk getting Iess, or sometimes more, of the Iisted ingredients.


Possible health risks

Most supplements are safe to take, but there are exceptions. 

For example:

  • High doses of beta carotene have been Iinked to a greater risk of lung cancer in smokers
  • Extra calcium and vitamin D may increase the risk of kidney stones
  • High doses of vitamin E may lead to stroke caused by bleeding in the brain
  • Vitamin K can interfere with the anti-clotting effects of blood thinners
  • Taking high amounts of vitamin B6 for a year or longer has been associated with nerve damage that can impair body movements

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