Truth About Women Taking Supplements

10 of the most popular vitamins, minerals, and herbs, and what they can – and can’t – do for you

It seems like a no-brainer: Pop a pill and – poof! – you can be on your way to stronger bones, a healthier heart, and thicker hair. Some supplement manufactures make it sound so simple. Not surprisingly, we’ve given up a lot during the recession, but we’re still downing vitamins and other supplements. We now spend more than $26 billion on them annually.

Taking supplements can be a smart move. Most American women, for example, fall short on calcium, and three-quarters of all Americans are low on vitamin D. But based on the analysis of research on 10 popular supplements many women take, some of the stuff you’re swallowing might be a waste of money – multivitamin included, which haven’t yet been shown to improve the health of the average person.

Many claims are overblown and unsubstantiated. Although supplements makers are legally bared from making durglike promises, some do anyway – and supplements don’t’ have to go through the same rigorous process as drugs to be proved safe and effective. Some ingredients have been linked to serious health risks or might cause dangerous interactions. If you take a blood thinner such as warfarin (Coumadin and generic), for example, fish oil, ginger, ginkgo biloba, and other supplements can thin the blood, and other supplements can be risky because they can thin the blood, too. So ask your doctor or pharmacist before you start taking anything new.

What you need to know about Calcium

Calcium is an essential bone builder. It can also help with some PMS symptoms, and some early evidence indicates that it might do more for you, too – such as help lower the risk of colon cancer and possibly reduce cholesterol and blood pressure.

Who should consider it – Many people, even those who regularly consume the recommended three daily servings of dairy products. It’s still a challenge to get enough calcium.

Howe much to take – For women younger than 50 the recommended daily intake is 1,000 milligrams, (A typical serving of dairy contains 200 to 400 milligrams). Women older than 500 need 1,200 milligrams daily; 9- to 18-year-olds are actively building bone and need 1,300 milligrams. Also, you should take it with vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. If you take more than 500 milligrams, split the dose and take it at separate times during the day to improve absorption and minimize side effects such as bloating, constipation, and gas. And be sure to read labels; many foods are packed with extra calcium these days, so it’s easy to get too much. More than 2,500 milligrams daily can block the absorption of other nutrients and cause kidney problems.

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