Tips for staying supplement savvy

If you're considering a dietary supplement, you can protect your health — and your wallet — with two important rules:

  1. Do your research. Be an informed consumer. Know what you're buying and why you're buying it.
  2. Take responsibility for your own health and well-being. A supplement that works wonders for your neighbor or cousin may not be right for you.

Here's how to put these two rules into practice.

Do your research

Be open-minded yet skeptical. Make sure the supplement that you're considering can be of benefit to you. Any pill that is strong enough to produce a positive effect is also strong enough to carry a risk. Do your homework and investigate the potential benefits and risks before you buy.

Gather evidence-based information from reputable sources. When researching supplements, do what doctors do. Look for high-quality clinical studies or clinical reviews of the available evidence published in peer-reviewed journals. You can find many of these journal articles online or by asking a reference librarian at your local library.

If reading scientific studies isn't your thing, look to a noncommercial website, produced by the government, a university, or a reputable medical or health-related association, for a summary of the science. The Internet is a rich source of health information, but it's also a source of misinformation, so be careful.

Follow the 3 D's to sort fact from fiction:

  • Dates. Check the date on any information that you find online. If you don't see a date, don't assume the article is recent. Older material may not include recent findings, such as newly discovered side effects or advances in the field.
  • Documentation. Check sources. Are qualified health professionals creating and reviewing the information you found? Is advertising clearly identified?
  • Double-check. Visit several health sites and compare findings. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health maintains notices of recalls, tainted products, alerts and advisories. In addition, the Dietary Supplement Label Database from the National Institutes of Health contains information about tens of thousands of dietary supplements available in the United States. Check these websites periodically for updates.
Aug. 04, 2016 See more In-depth