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Many practitioners of complementary medicine recommend supplements for a wide range of health problems affecting virtually every body system. For most of these conditions, conventional physicians would be more likely to prescribe drugs, though they might treat some disorders with supplements. For example, iron may be prescribed for some types of anemia, vitamin A (in the drug isotretinoin, or Accutane) for severe acne, and high doses of the B vitamin niacin for reducing high cholesterol levels.
In this tool, certain vitamins and minerals are suggested for the treatment of specific ailments. However, the use of nutritional supplements as remedies, especially for serious conditions, is controversial. Most doctors practicing conventional medicine are skeptical of their efficacy and believe it is sometimes dangerous to rely on them. But based on published data and their clinical observations, nutritionally oriented physicians and practitioners think the use of these supplements is justified — and that to wait years for unequivocal proof to appear would be wasting valuable time. Until there is clearer, more consistent evidence available, you should be careful about depending on nutritional supplements alone to treat an ailment or injury.
For thousands of years, however, various cultures have employed herbs for soothing, relieving, or even curing many common health problems, a fact not ignored by medical science. The pharmaceutical industry, after all, arose as a consequence of people using herbs as medicine. Recent studies suggest that a number of the claims made for herbs have validity, and the pharmacological actions of the herbs covered in this book are often well documented by clinical studies as well as historical practice. In Europe, a number of herbal remedies, including
St. John’s wort, ginkgo biloba, and saw palmetto, now are accepted and prescribed as medications for treating disorders such as allergies, depression, impotence, and even heart disease. Of course, even herbs and other supplements with proven therapeutic effects should be used judiciously for treating an ailment.
What supplements won’t do
Despite the many promising benefits that supplements offer, it’s important to note their limits — and to question some of the extravagant claims currently being made for them.
As the word itself suggests, supplements are not meant to replace the nutrients available from foods. Supplements will never make up for a poor diet: They can’t counteract a high intake of saturated fat (which is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer), and they can’t replace every nutrient found in food groups that you ignore. Also, although scientists have isolated and extracted a number of disease-fighting phytochemical compounds from fruits, vegetables, and other foods, there may be many others that are undiscovered — and ones you can get only from foods. In addition, some of the known compounds may work only in combination with others in various foods, rather than as single isolated ingredients in supplement form.
Supplements won’t compensate for habits known to contribute to ill health, such as smoking or a lack of exercise. Optimal health requires a wholesome lifestyle — particularly if, as people get older, they are intent on aging well.
Although some of the benefits ascribed to supplements are unproved but plausible, other claims are far-fetched. Weight-loss preparations are the leading example. Though they’re extremely popular, it’s questionable whether any of them can help you shed pounds without the right food choices and regular exercise. Products that claim to “burn fat” won’t burn enough on their own for significant weight loss.
Similarly, claims of boosting performance, whether physical or mental, are difficult to prove — and any “enhancement” will be a limited one at best in a healthy person. Though a supplement may improve mental functioning in someone experiencing mild to severe episodes of memory loss, it may have a negligible effect on the memory or concentration of most adults. Likewise, a supplement shown to combat fatigue isn’t going to turn the average jogger into an endurance athlete. Nor is it clear that “aphrodisiac” supplements are effective for enhancing sexual performance if you aren’t suffering from some form of sexual dysfunction.
No supplements have been found to cure any serious diseases — including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or AIDS. The right supplement, however, may help improve a chronic condition and relieve symptoms such as pain or inflammation. But first you need to consult a health professional for treatment.
Source:Your Guide to
Vitamins, Minerals, and Herbs