01.03.2024

Do the most popular health supplements work or are Americans WASTING their money?

Nearly four-in-five Americans take supplements daily to help with a range of ailments, from stress, brittle bones and insomnia. But do these ‘superpills’ actually do what they claim on the label or are Americans needlessly spending hundreds of dollars a year?

Nutritionists warn that, in many cases, there is little evidence a supplement will have the prescribed health benefit that it claims.

Below, DailyMail.com has researched the five most popular supplements — based on Google searches and compiled by Total Shape, an online fitness resource center— to establish which work and which could leave their user shortchanged.

Pictured above are America’s top five supplements, according to Google searches

Pictured above are America's top five supplements, according to Google searches

Ashwagandha

This plant recently took TikTok by storm over claims it can do everything from ease stress and anxiety to help someone sleep and battle menopause.

Ashwagandha can help relieve stress, some experts claim

Ashwagandha can help relieve stress, some experts claim

Taken as a pill containing ground up roots once or twice a day, experts say it contains withanolides — compounds that can reduce inflammation.

Some also suggest these can help suppress the release of dopamine in the brain, curbing stress.

A meta-analysis in 2022 looking at 12 studies and 1,000 people did detect a potential link between taking the supplement and reduced stress.

However, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) says the supplement ‘may be effective’ at relieving stress, but cautions more research is needed.

The NCCIH also said there was ‘limited evidence’ the supplement could help boost testosterone and sperm quality.

The organization also said there was ‘not enough evidence’ to support additional claims ashwagandha boosts brain health, athletic performance or helps with health conditions including asthma, diabetes and menopause.

Nutritionists say the supplement is safe to use, but should not be taken routinely because of the risk of side effects such as diarrhea and vomiting.

People who have thyroid issues, autoimmune disorders or are pregnant should steer clear, they add.

Creatine is a popular supplement for building muscle

Creatine is a popular supplement for building muscle

Creatine

Recently named America’s second-most-popular supplement, this powder is most commonly used by gym-goers.

It is popular in the group both for its ability to boost energy — allowing muscles to work harder — and improve recovery — enhancing growth.

Science suggests this supplement may help people improve their strength and grow muscle faster.

A separate 2022 meta-analysis analyzing 12 studies found the supplement was ‘an efficient form of supplementation’ for muscle growth in a healthy young population.

There have also been suggestions creatine can help with brain function in those aged 60 years and older, although evidence for this remains ‘limited’.

Of the little research into this claim, one paper involving 30 people who had creatine four times a day for one week showed significant improvements in brain function. But the sample  was too small to make definitive conclusions about the supplement’s effects.

Magnesium pills can be taken for a range of medical issues

Magnesium pills can be taken for a range of medical issues

Magnesium

This ‘super-pill’ is said to help with a wide range of ailments from muscle pain to migraines and low energy.

It is found naturally in foods like spinach, nuts, salmon and beef.

Experts say those eating a balanced diet should get enough from these sources and wouldn’t need to take an additional supplement.

But many still take it both to avoid a deficiency and reap the rewards of the alleged health benefits.

Explaining these, Dr Bruce Bistrian from Harvard Medical School, said: ‘Magnesium supplements are sometimes marketed as «super-pills» that can fix a long list of ailments such as muscle tension, low energy, and trouble sleeping in people with adequate total body magnesium.’

He added, however: ‘The evidence to support the claims just isn’t there.’

Some nutritionists suggest taking magnesium can help athletes battle muscle cramps because the nutrient is used by muscles to help them contract and, when not enough is available, it may cause cramps.

Studies involving nearly 400 pregnant women support this claim, showing magnesium can help the group avoid leg cramps — especially at night.

But in groups of older adults, a systematic review from 2012 failed to find the same evidence, saying there was no difference in cramps between the groups taking and not taking the supplements.

Scientists have generally concluded that taking magnesium supplements is safe.

There are concerns melatonin supplements could raise the risk of dementia

There are concerns melatonin supplements could raise the risk of dementia

Melatonin

In today’s busy world, it can prove hard to get to sleep.

To remedy the issue, one in four American adults — or a quarter of the population — take melatonin tablets occasionally or regularly.

Melatonin is naturally produced in the brain when sunlight fades to promote feelings of sleepiness.

Melatonin supplements claim they boost this process, and can help shorten the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, as well as lengthen the time someone stays asleep.

Once taken, within 30 minutes the supplements are absorbed into the bloodstream and travel to the brain. However, only about 2.5 to 50 percent of melatonin in the pill actually reaches the organ.

The NCCIH says there is ‘not enough strong evidence’ to suggest the pills can help someone with insomnia, or someone who routinely struggles to get to sleep.

In instances science has detected a possible benefit, such as when someone struggles to sleep at normal hours, researchers say there is not enough evidence the risks outweigh the benefits.

One of those possible risks is dementia. Research from a 2022 study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease involving 3,000 people, found those who took the supplement routinely were more likely to get the disease. Some papers have also suggested that those exposed to higher doses were more likely to get the disease.

There has been a recent surge in popularity for Vitamin D

There has been a recent surge in popularity for Vitamin D

Vitamin D

This vitamin, normally sourced from sunlight, gained popularity during the Covid pandemic amid claims it could protect someone from an infection.

Today nearly one-in-five adults continue to take the supplement — in a market worth $638million —for its purported health benefits, which may include the ability to strengthen bones.

Vitamin D is made naturally when the body is exposed to sunlight, with only 10 to 15 minutes needed per day for adults to get the daily recommended dose.

Experts say everyone should make enough of this vitamin every day naturally, even via exposure to a cloudy sky in the winter.

It has been suggested the vitamin could help strengthen bones by boosting the amount of calcium the body absorbs.

However, major studies do not suggest taking vitamin D strengthens bones in healthy middle-aged and older adults, with the VITAL trail — a major trial involving 25,000 people and run by Harvard  to investigate the benefits of Vitamin D supplementation — being the most major not to find a link.

Some scientists in 2019 even pointed the other way — and suggested having too much vitamin D could actually reduce bone density.

There is also limited evidence to support claims the vitamin helped protect against Covid, with the National Institutes of Health saying there is ‘no evidence’ it prevents infections.

Summing up the evidence Dr Neha Vyas, a family medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic, told CNBC this was a ‘really tricky subject’.

‘There’s really no consensus in the literature. There are no large-scale good studies on vitamin D without any conflicts of interest.’

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